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Of the existing surgical treatments for vitiligo, including punch and blister grafts, cellular grafting seems to have the best results. However, up until this point, the procedure has been hard to access, with only three research centers providing this treatment in the United States. Tevido BioDevices, a Texas-based company specializing in cell therapies for reconstructive and aesthetic surgery, is hoping to change that.
How cellular grafts work
Cellular grafts are part of a surgical procedure in which the very thin top layer of skin on a patch of vitiligo is removed and healthy pigment cells, called melanocytes, are transplanted there from another part of the body. Within a few months, the transplanted cells will start making pigment, causing the white spots to disappear.
According to Dr. John Harris, director of the UMass Vitiligo Clinic and Research Center, one of the three existing centers where cellular grafting is performed, the procedure takes 2-4 hours depending on the size of the area to be treated. The skin is numbed using local anesthesia and bandages are left on for one week while the skin heals.
“Researchers around the world have been using this treatment successfully for over two decades,” said Dr. Harris. “We estimate several thousand people have had the procedure.”
When performed on patients who have stable vitiligo – those who have no new spots for 1-2 years – the results have proved promising. A 2004 study reported that 84% of segmental vitiligo patients (vitiligo only on one side of the body) and 73% of focal vitiligo patients (vitiligo in a confined area) showed greater than 95% repigmentation for up to five years.
Making cellular grafts more accessible
Tevido BioDevices hopes to bring this successful treatment option to even more patients. To make cellular grafts more accessible, the company is creating a centralized laboratory to prepare pigment grafts for dermatologists who don’t have access to the specialized equipment. Using the same cellular graft process as researchers, the company has added quality controls and testing to meet FDA requirements and graft specifications.
“A patient’s doctor takes a thin, postage stamp size sample of skin – about the thickness of 2-3 strands of human hair – and ships it to us,” explained Laura Bosworth, CEO of Tevido BioDevices. “We process the sample and ship it back in time for the sample to be re-applied just 48 hours after the initial appointment. Taking the sample and applying it will take about an hour total time, in two visits.”
Tevido Biodevices plans to make this treatment available to patients in spring 2019. They are currently partnering with vitiligo specialists with the goal of having at least one specialist in each large metropolitan area within the next six months. Physicians interested in offering this option to patients should contact Tevido BioDevices at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about surgical treatment for vitiligo through Tevido BioDevices visit their website.
Erika Page is a writer and blogger with universal vitiligo. Based just south of Washington, D.C., Erika founded Living Dappled to create a community of inspiration and hope for girls and women living with vitiligo.