In the United States, approximately 1 in 200 are affected by vitiligo – a skin disease that causes the skin to lose color and develop white patches. Now dermatologists at Henry Ford Hospital state that skin transplant surgery is safe and effective for restoring skin pigmentation caused by the disease.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The team followed 23 patients who underwent the surgery for six months after the procedure. They found that, on average, the treated area of skin regained 43% of its natural color. Furthermore, in 8 patients with localized vitiligo, the treated skin area regained on average 68% of its natural color.

Performed under local anesthesia, the surgery, known as melanocyte-keratinocyte transplantation(MKTP), involves taking healthy skin cells from pigmented areas of the body and transferring them to the damaged area of skin.

Lead researcher of the study, Iltefat Hamzavi, M.D., a senior staff physician in Henry Ford’s Department of Dermatology, said:

“The results achieved in our study were of obvious significance to our patients. We believe this new treatment option offers hope to patients of color and those with vitiligo on one side of the body or in one area of the body.”

The skin disease develops when the body’s immune system kills cells called melanocytes. These dead cells no longer make pigment and as a result the area of skin turns white. Although there is no cure for vitiligo, it can be managed and treated with topical medications, creams and light therapy.

Although the surgery is performed in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, this is the first time the procedure has been performed in North America.

In the study, 28 patients aged 18 to 60 underwent MKTP. In total, the procedure was performed 36 times and the team examined the outcomes of 29 of them. Duration of the procedure lasted from 30 minutes to two hours. Patients where discharged from the hospital on the same day.

The researchers followed 23 of the 28 patients for up to 6 months. 18 patients received 1 treatment, 4 received two treatments and one patient received 3 treatments. The ethnicity of patients was Caucasian, South Asian, African American and Hispanic.

During the procedure, melanocyte cells are taken from an area of healthy skin and separated to make a skin cell mixture, which was then applied to the treatment area of the skin. The treated area, which was, on average, the size of a credit card, was then covered with a specially developed adhesive biologic dressing.

The study was a collaboration between Henry Ford and the National Center for Vitiligo, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and funded by the Shahani Foundation based in Michigan.

Written By Grace Rattue