Courtesy of Nada Elbuluk ’04

Nada Elbuluk ’04 recently spoke with Dermatology Times about vitiligo, an autoimmune disease where antibodies attack melanocytes, the cells that make pigment, leaving white patches on the skin. Celebrities such as Michael Jackson, model Winnie Harlow, and actor Jon Hamm have talked about their experiences with the condition. As a dermatologist who teaches at the University of Southern California and a board member of the Global Vitiligo Foundation, Elbuluk says the condition is still widely misunderstood. For this first Q&A in a new series that will appear in PAW’s Alumni in the News newsletter, Elbuluk cleared up some common misconceptions about vitiligo.

Q: Is there a genetic predisposition for vitiligo?
A: Yes. Unfortunately, you can’t get tested for it. Vitiligo can sit dormant in a person for years and then a trigger can set it off. It can affect any race or gender and it is in 1-2 percent of the world’s population. It is fairly common in the skin disease world. 

Canadian fashion model Winnie Harlow, seen here in London for the 2021 British Fashion Awards, is one of several celebrities who have been outspoken about their vitilago.
Canadian fashion model Winnie Harlow, seen here in London for the 2021 British Fashion Awards, is one of several celebrities who have been outspoken about their vitilago.
Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/Sipa USA/via AP Images
Q: Is vitiligo treatable or curable?
A: While it’s not yet curable, vitiligo is treatable. We have many different things we can do to get the skin color to come back. We can stabilize it with topical cream, oral medication, light therapy, or antioxidants. It’s usually a combination approach depending on the patient’s vitiligo distribution. About one-third of people experience itching where vitiligo shows up. 
Q: Since vitiligo is visible, does part of your treatment include some sort of psychological help? 
A: Yes. Vitiligo has a profound psychological and emotional effect on the people who have it because it is visible. Other diseases (like hypertension or diabetes) are not visible. We do address it since some people become reclusive. I do suggest sometimes seeing a therapist or psychologist. I used to run a vitiligo support group in New York City, and it showed me how this affects their relationships, their work, their day-to-day life — so many aspects of their life. There have been so many support groups across the country. I am on the board of the Global Vitiligo Foundation, which helps oversee and connect all the different support groups in the country, including online support groups. 
Q: Is vitiligo life threatening? 
A: Vitiligo won’t kill you; it doesn’t carry a mortality risk. But it is associated with other conditions that can have a systemic effect on people. About 20-30% also have thyroid disease. Be sure to get screened for other autoimmune diseases.
Q: Finally, how aware is the public regarding vitiligo?
A: Awareness is important. A lot of the public doesn’t know about it. The more the public knows what it is, the more positive people who have it will be. Some people can confuse it with leprosy or think it’s contagious. Neither is true. There is a public awareness campaign; watch “Step Up for Vitiligo.” The more the public knows what it is, the more they won’t treat people who have it differently. CoverGirl has hired a model with vitiligo, Mattel came out with a Barbie that has vitiligo. Even Call of Duty has a character that has it. Model Winnie Harlow, who has vitiligo, has started modeling without makeup. There has been a big increase in visibility. Different sectors in marketing and media can have a positive impact for people with vitiligo and not make people feel alienated. 

— Interview conducted and condensed by Nicholas DeVito

Vincent Po ’18 left his engineering job to become a freelance photographer and now photographs weddings for free for his project, Portrait of a Young Couple. — The New York Times
Crystal Nix-Hines ’85, co-chair of the Crisis Law and Strategy Group at law firm Quinn Emanuel, is leading a review of the Nov. 13 shooting at the University of Virginia after the firm was selected by the state’s attorney general. — NBC
As shareholders become more interested in the ethics of their investments, economics Nobel laureate Oliver Hart *74 and Luigi Zingales outlined a way for true shareholder democracy to become a reality. — The Washington Post
Former ambassador Cameron Hume ’68 said he traveled to Moscow as part of the effort to free Brittney Griner and defended the decision to release Viktor Bout in the exchange. — Semafor
Economics Nobel laureate James Heckman *71 discussed the traits that lead to success in life, and said schools can’t do it alone — families play a large role. — The Times of India
Former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold *83 disputed a new study that negates his work years ago to show the Apatosaurus could swish its tail at supersonic speeds. — GeekWire
Playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins ’06 created the new Hulu show Kindred, which follows a modern Black woman transported to a plantation in the 1800s. — The Detroit Free Press
The University of Virginia’s law school joined several peer institutions that will no longer participate in U.S. News and Report’s annual rankings, which “fail to capture much of what we value at UVA,” Dean Risa Goluboff *03 wrote in a letter to students. — The Washington Post
Former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett ’89 was being considered for a job at Stanford but announced on Twitter he’ll continue with his current job at NBC analyzing Notre Dame games. — Sports Illustrated

“We are literally connected to the stars, and we are literally connected to future generations of people. In this way, even in a material universe, we are connected to all things future and past. I don’t believe in miracles, but I do believe in the miraculous.”

— MIT physicist Alan Lightman ’70, in an essay adapted from his forthcoming book, The Transcendent Brain: Spirituality in the Age of Science. — The Atlantic

 Harvard political theorist Danielle Allen ’93 said schools have to address race and sex in the classroom because observant children will ask about them. She hopes we can take them out of politics “and turn them into a real conversation about how to raise healthy, loving, responsible children.” — The Washington Post
Hani Goodarzi *10, associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, has co-founded Vevo Therapeutics, a biotechnology company aimed at discovering “better” drugs through an AI and data platform. — Labiotech
Robyn LeBoeuf *02, a marketing professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said gift-receivers prefer cash or gift cards more than gift-givers tend to think they do. — WHNT News 19

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