Vitiligo is a chronic skin condition that causes areas of the skin to become depigmented (or lose pigment). Considered an autoimmune disease, Vitiligo is thought to occur when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys melanocytes (the cells that produce pigment) — leaving the affected area of skin void of color. Vitiligo most often affects the face, elbows, knees, hands and feet, and the condition is more noticeable in people with darker skin tones.
Vitiligo generally appears in one of these three patterns:
Focal Pattern: Depigmentation is limited to one or only few areas.
Segmental Pattern: Depigmentation develops on only one side of the body.
Generalized Pattern: Depigmentation develops on different parts of the body.
The most common treatments for Vitiligo include topical medications and light therapy that can be used in combination to restore pigment. Now, newer surgical techniques are being introduced that have shown to have a high success rate in restoring pigment to the affected areas.
- Normal skin is used as donor tissue and then grafts are surgically transplanted on areas of Vitiligo. The new skin grafts start producing pigment.( Eg: Punch grafting, blister grafting, split skin grafting)
- Patients who are candidates for this procedure must have stable Vitiligo, or Vitiligo that has not changed for at least six months.
- This procedure can be used for patients with limited areas of Vitiligo and also in those with more extensive disease. Patients can decide to use grafts on one area of the body (such as the face) and choose another therapy for other areas affected by Vitiligo (such as the hands).
- Skin grafting has a high success rate — 80 to 90 percent in most patients.
Melanocyte transplantation and Melanocyte Culture
In melanocyte transplantation, melanocytes and keratinocytes (the cells of the top layer of skin) are obtained surgically under local anesthesia from the patient and transplanted immediately into the patches. In melanocyte culture, the cells are separated from a small piece of skin and then grown in a culture in the laboratory. Once grown, the cells are then placed or applied on the skin’s Vitiligo patches.
This therapy is administered in-office and best used in areas of limited Vitiligo where the Vitiligo has been stable for at least six months.
Melanocyte transplants have a very high success rate of 95 percent.
Maintenance following surgery
Phototherapy often is used after both skin grafting and melanocyte transplants to stimulate cells to make new pigment faster in treated areas.