Page last updated at 01:13 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Skin transplant offers hope to vitiligo patients

Skin which has lost its colour, a disease known as vitiligo
An area of vitiligo before skin transplant treatment...

Skin transplant surgery could be an effective way of treating the skin disease vitiligo, say US researchers.

A team in Detroit transferred healthy skin cells to 32 patients who had areas of the body that had lost colour due to the condition.

They found the treated area regained on average 52% of its natural skin colour.

In some patients with a specific type of vitiligo, the treated area regained on average 74% of its natural skin colour, the researchers said.

The surgery was carried out under local anaesthetic at Henry Ford Hospital.

Patients of colour and those with vitiligo on one side of the body and in one area of the body may benefit most from this procedure
Iltefat Hamzavi, study author

"The results achieved in our study were of obvious significance to our patients," said Dr Iltefat Hamzavi, the study's senior author.

Although these are just initial results, Dr Hamzavi said for some patients the surgery was more effective than standard treatments like light therapy or medication.

"Patients of colour and those with vitiligo on one side of the body and in one area of the body may benefit most from this procedure," he said.

The surgery is known as melanocyte-keratinocyte transplantation or MKTP.

An area of vitiligo which has been treated
The same area of skin after transplant treatment...

Melanocyte cells, which produce pigment in the skin, hair and eyes, are taken from an area of healthy skin and separated to make a skin cell mixture.

This mixture is then applied to the treatment area and covered with a specially developed dressing.

In the study, 32 patients (18 male, 14 female) ranging in age from 18 to 60 underwent surgery.

Treated areas included hands, arms, legs, feet, face and stomach.

Maxine Whitton, patron of the Vitiligo Society, a UK charity, said the technique was unsuitable for large areas, or for actively spreading vitiligo.

"We need more studies using this technique including well-designed randomised controlled trials comparing this technique with other surgical interventions such as grafting," she said.

"The results of this study could lead to further investigation of the technique in randomised controlled trials and be useful for some people with vitiligo."

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