BOSTON – Third generation Greek-American Dr. Nicholas Theodosakis with roots in Smyrna spoke with The National Herald about his work on the skin disease vitiligo and with Dr. David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Theodosakis and Dr. Fisher have also been working with the American Vitiligo Research Foundation (AVRF), a 501(c)(3) federally tax-exempt charity based in Clearwater, FL, which was founded by another Greek-American, Stella Pavlides, who is also a vitiligo patient and shared her experience.
Pavlides told TNH: “Being a vitiligo patient, I know firsthand the emotional stress this disfiguring skin disease causes to those affected. I have been working with Harvard/Massachusetts General for the past 26 years and finally Dr. David Fisher, Chief of Dermatology, has found something that could lead to the cure on behalf of 70 plus million men, women and children of all ethnicities worldwide. Although not fatal, vitiligo has such a mental impact that some affected commit suicide.”
Dr. Theodosakis told TNH: “Vitiligo is a chronic, disfiguring disease which affects both children and adults of all races and ethnicities. Vitiligo is also currently not curable. Standard of care includes chronic steroid use, which comes with an entire host of side effects, and UV light therapy, which may have long-term effects on patients' risk of skin cancer.”
“We now know that vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder, much like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, in which the body's immune system attacks the cells in the skin responsible for creating pigment,” Theodosakis said. “With this knowledge comes the potential for more effective long-term treatments aimed at preventing this misactivation of the body's own defenses.”
He continued: “Working together, the AVRF, Massachusetts General Hospital Dermatology, and the Fisher Lab have been studying vitiligo for years, and have made a number of important advances in our understanding of the biology of the disease. With further support, we believe we can develop new generations of treatments which help relieve the immense psychological and emotional burden vitiligo places on patients of all ages. While the resource needs for this type of research are significant, we believe that the ultimate payoff of finding a cure will be well worth the investment.”
Dr. Theodosakis noted that his family came to New York in the early 20th century fleeing the genocide in their home city of Smyrna. As a junior scientist in Dr. Fisher's lab, he has a strong interest in diseases of pigmentation, including vitiligo. Dr. Theodosakis is also a clinical dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School specializing in treating patients with these disorders. After working under Dr. Fisher, Dr. Theodosakis aims to one day establish his own independent laboratory to study these diseases, and hopefully one day develop a cure for those suffering from the disfigurement and emotional distress caused by chronic dyspigmentation.
Dr. Nicholas Theodosakis, dermatologist, at work in the lab. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Nicholas Theodosakis
In a letter concerning the research efforts, Dr. Fisher said: “While it is difficult to predict an exact research cost to cure vitiligo, funding in the amount of $300-500,000 would have a major impact at this time, through permitting bold initiatives aimed at the core of vitiligo’s pathogenesis. The overall research strategy is to utilize new drug treatments to mobilize pigment stem cells from specialized compartments in the skin— so that thy migrate to the unpigmented regions and re-populate the unpigmented patches, to normalize skin appearance and function.”
“We propose to examine these pathways in detail, if there were funding available from AVRF, with the goal of aiding patients with this devastating disease,” Dr. Fisher noted, adding that “no animals will be the subjects of research as part of this work, which will study only human cells within the laboratory.”
U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis also expressed his support for AVRF and its efforts, noting that “I first became familiar with vitiligo through AVRF Founder & President, Stella Pavlides of Clearwater, Florida, a tireless advocate who has dedicated her life to promoting the embracing of diversity and encouraging acceptance. For 27 years, the AVRF has provided public awareness about vitiligo through dedicated work, education, counseling, and lobbying at both the state and federal government levels. I applaud the AVRF for encouraging higher ethical standards in research, and therefore, supporting finding a potential cure through alternatives to animal testing.”
“Again, I am proud to support Stella Pavlides and the AVRF in their admirable mission to make a difference worldwide to those afflicted by vitiligo, with a focus on children and their families,” Congressman Bilirakis concluded.
Earlier this year, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros also wrote to Pavlides praising her and the AVRF for helping children and families and urging her to continue in “this valiant effort.”
Pavlides said: “Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the AVRF on behalf of Dr. Fisher and Dr. Theodosakis, so they can move forward with their much needed research.”
More information is available on www.AVRF.org to make a donation or mail a check payable to AVRF Research:
P.O. Box 7540
Clearwater, FL 33758