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Skin transplants help patients with vitiligo

March 14, 2010 |  2:19 pm

Transplants of healthy skin cells from elsewhere on the body can alleviate the signs of vitiligo, a disfiguring loss of color in the skin, researchers from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit reported Tuesday at a Miami meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Vitiligo is a disorder in which a person's own immune system attacks pigment-producing skin cells called melanocytes. The loss of those cells causes skin in the affected areas to turn white, which is most noticeable on people of color. Current treatments include creams and phototherapy, but nothing is very effective. The chronic disorder affects about one in every 200 people; the late pop singer Michael Jackson was known to have suffered from vitiligo.Vitiligo2 Vitiligo1

The new procedure, known as melanocyte-keratinocyte transplantation, or MKTP, was developed by Dr. Sanjeev Mulekar of the National Vitiligo Center in Saudi Arabia. Melanocytes from healthy areas of skin are isolated to prepare a skin cell mixture, which is then applied to affected areas with a specially developed adhesive dressing.

Dr. Iltefat Hamzavi of Ford and his colleagues treated 32 patients, 18 male and 14 female, with the procedure, applying the preparation to an area about the size of a credit card. After six months, the treated area regained about 52% of its natural color, they reported. In patients with a certain type of vitiligo, the treated area regained 74% of its natural color. Patients with vitiligo on one side of the body and in one area of the body may benefit the most from the procedure, Hamzavi said.

The study was funded by the Shahani Foundation, based in Michigan.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

A vitiligo patient before, left, and after treatment. Credit: Henry Ford Hospital