By Mark Cowen
Patients with the skin disease vitiligo may benefit from surgery in which skin cells from unaffected areas of the body are transplanted into damaged areas to restore color, say researchers.
"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," said lead researcher Dr Iltefat Hamzavi (Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, Michigan, USA) in a press statement.
Vitiligo is a disease in which areas of skin lose color to form white patches that vary in size and location. It develops when color-producing cells called melanocytes are killed by the body's immune system.
An estimated one in every 200 people in the USA is affected by the disorder, which is more noticeable in people with darker than lighter skin. There is no cure for vitiligo, but it can be treated and managed with light therapy, creams, and ointments.
Dr Iltefat Hamzavi and team studied 23 patients, aged 18-60 years, with vitiligo who underwent 29 operations with the new surgical treatment, called melanocyte-keratinocyte transplantation.
The procedures took between 30 minutes and 2 hours to perform and the patients returned home the same day. Treated areas included the hands, arms, legs, feet, face and stomach.
Six months after surgery, the researchers found that, on average, the patients affected areas of skin had regained 42% of their natural color.
Furthermore, 17% of the procedures resulted in skin regaining 95-100% of its natural color, and 31% resulted in skin regaining 65-94% of its colour.
Dr Hamzavi concluded that skin transplant surgery for vitiligo "is an effective and well-tolerated procedure," adding that "the results achieved in our study were of obvious significance to our patients."
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