During recent tests, it has been noted that the drug nitisinone, usually used for treating tyrosinemia, has shown an increase in melanin levels in albino mice.
Nitisinone (also known as NTBC) is a drug originally developed as a herbicide but is now more commonly used in the treatment of hereditary tyrosinemia, a metabolism error in which the body is unable to break down tyrosine properly with symptoms including liver and kidney disturbances. This is now the first line of defense or treatment over liver transplantation in this rare condition and can also be used for alkaptonuria, a related but less severe condition.
A study into its effects on albino mice showed that the melanin levels in their eyes was increased, although visual changes were not apparent. The research stemmed from the fact that the drug nitisinone was known to have the side effect of increasing pigmentation in the iris and hair of patients with tyrosinemia. It is hoped that this study can provide an effective treatment for albino humans. The condition oculocutaneous albinism is where lack of pigment and poor retinal differentiation results in reduced vision. Although by no means a cure, this study could provide an important building block in the future treatment of patients with this condition which affects the eyes and their vision.