Vitiligo is a skin condition that occurs when the body’s immune system malfunctions and destroys melanocytes in the skin. When these melanin producing cells are killed, they lose their color. This turns the affected areas of skin white. This disease is very common – impacting 1 out of 200 Americans. How noticeable the condition is depends on several factors including the location and size of the white blotches and the natural color of the surrounding skin. Individuals with darkly pigmented skin have a more difficult time camouflaging the melanin deficient patches. There is no cure for this condition, but there are some treatments that can help minimize the effects. One vitiligo treatment that has recently been tested in the United States is transplantation of skin cells.
What Does Transplantation Involve?
Melanocyte-keratinocyte transplantation (MKTP) requires collecting donor tissue from an area of the patient’s body that is not affected by vitiligo. A thin layer of skin may be shaved from the top of the thigh for this purpose. The layers of cells from the donor skin are separated using an enzyme so that a concentrated cell solution rich in melanocytes can be applied to the hypopigmented skin. The recipient area is abraded so that the transplanted cells will penetrate into the skin. The area is covered with a dressing that promotes the survival of the transplanted cells. An anti-biotic may be prescribed to reduce the risk of infection. The goal of MKTP is for the melanocytes to become established and eventually replace the diseased skin with healthy, normally pigmented tissue.
The clinical trial at the Henry Ford Department of Dermatology involved 23 patients. The procedure took place under local anesthesia on an outpatient basis. The patients experienced, on average, a 52% restoration of natural coloration. Some individuals had significantly more improvement than others. Overall, the outcome appeared favorable compared to results from traditional treatments such as light therapy and topical solutions.
Not All Vitiligo Sufferers Are Good Candidates
MKTP isn’t considered a suitable treatment for patients whose vitiligo is still spreading or appearing on new areas of the body. The condition should have stabilized for about 6 months before the transplantation is attempted. Individuals who tend to develop hypopigmentation or keloid scarring were not accepted for the Henry Ford clinical trial. The procedure may offer more benefit to patients who have a localized patch of vitiligo. The results may also be more dramatic and rapid for patients of color.