ReCell, At A Glance
- Best Results1+ sessions
- Treatment Recovery7-14 days
- Procedure Time90 min
- Skin SpecialistDermatologist, nurse
- Duration of ResultsVariable
- Back to Work7+ days
- Cost$$$$ Partial Medicare Reimbursement
ReCell is a procedure aimed at repopulating pigment cells called melanocytes. It is most frequently used to treat white scars from acne, picking, as well as burns & stable vitiligo. Re-pigmentation is achieved when other pigment cells are transferred to scar tissue. It can take 6 to 12 months to see results.
FactsFacts on ReCell
- This treatment is best used to repigment white scars from trauma, inflammation, as well as caustic & thermal burns
- White marks from acne scars can also be treated with ReCell
- Stable vitiligo can also be treated with ReCell
- Complete re-pigmentation may take one year or longer depending on the severity & surface area
- I use ReCell as a last line treatment in most cases as other treatments are more effective & cost effective
What is ReCell technology?
ReCell is an Australian invention pioneered by Plastic Surgeon, Dr Fiona Wood. It is now used Internationally.
ReCell uses your own skin cells to repigment white scars from trauma, acne, picking, burns, & infection. It can also be a last line treatment for vitiligo.
ReCell Cell therapy involves transplanting cells from either your own body to re-colour the skin on the face or body and to repair skin damage. The transplanted cells boosts pigment production to restore the skin’s colour. The specialised cells in the skin responsible for forming colour are called melanocytes, so these are the specific cells which are harvested in a laboratory and injected or sprayed into the damaged area to boost colour production.
ReCell takes about 90 minutes to perform, and one week to recover. In the majority of cases repigmentation (re-colouring) is permanent.
What conditions can ReCell treat?
ReCell is most useful in repigment skin. Loss of skin colour can occur with conditions including –
- White Acne scars; known as hypopigmented scars, can be extremely difficult to treat. The loss of skin pigment cells gives rise to white areas. ReCell technology can re-colour these areas over time. (Note: this is my last line treatment for white scars, see the page on white acne scars to understand the treatment options available).
- Traumatic Picking; most commonly from drug induced psychosis such a ICE or meth. I approach these scars much like how I would for hypopigmented acne scars.
- Vitiligo: Vitiligo presents are white patches on the skin. The majority of patients will not need ReCell therapy to regain skin pigmentation. The use of anti-inflammatory creams coupled with narrowband phototherapy can re-colour skin in the majority of vitiligo cases. ReCell is only indicated if a patient fails conventional repigmentation and vitiligo is stable.
- Burns & trauma scars: The cause of white scars following burns and trauma is similar to acne scars. These areas lack melanocytes or skin pigment cells. ReCell can both remodel scars, and re-pigment the white patches. Other causes of skin lightening that may respond to ReCell include zoster- pox- shingles scars as well as hypopigmentation from laser & chemical burns. The success rate is on a case to case basis.
What causes white scars & patches?
White scars are due to loss of both melanin (skin pigment) & melanocytes or pigment producing cells. This can be due to
- Trauma, including picking acne (acne excoriee), dermatillomania (habitual picking of skin) as well as drug induced picking, most common with Ice.
- Inflammation from acne, chicken pox, and zoster (shingles)
- Immune mediated pigment loss such as vitiligo, & lupus
- Burns from lasers, IPL, chemical peels & heating sources
What is involved in ReCell treatment?
The 5 steps involved is as follows:
- Harvesting of donor cells. I harvest a very small piece of your own healthy skin, termed the ‘donor skin’. This is approximately the size and thickness of 2 postage stamps. The donor skin is most commonly taken from the thigh or back of your ear.
- Separation of skin cells. Skin is then carefully placed into a processing unit that separates the healthy growing skin cells which are then suspended in a liquid.This ‘cell suspension’ contains all of the skin cells necessary to promote healthy skin growth: keratinocyte cells that form the basis of healthy skin, fibroblasts which produce collagen providing texture and ‘fullness’ and melanocytes that produce skin colour (melanin). This suspension contains only your own skin cells. It is your body’s natural regeneration processes that provide all that is needed for the regrowth of healthy new skin.
- Recipient area preparation. The area to be treated is prepared using a laser to remove the aged, damaged or discoloured skin. I also employ other techniques such as microneedling or dermabrasion to the recipient site/s.
- Application of cell suspension: Your healthy reactivated skin cells in the cell suspension are then sprayed over the prepared area. The cells in the sprayed suspension multiply and repopulate and over a short amount of time forming new skin in 7-8 days. During this time the treated area will be protected with a special dressing.
- Stimulation of pigment cells: Skin pigmentation is maximal at 3-6 months following ReCell therapy. You will be advised to undertake phototherapy or light therapy to stimulate the donor melanocytes to produce pigment. It takes several months before they awaken & up to 1 year to see the final results.
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How long does it take to recover from ReCell?
There are two ‘wounds’ following ReCell therapy- one in the treated recipient area and the other from the donor site. Both of these areas will require dressings. Healing time will depend on the sites of both these ‘wounds’. As a guide, dressings are left on for one week following ReCell therapy.
My nurses and assistants will discuss specific wound care with you after the procedure. We are very strict with our wound care dressings as this gives the best chances of repigmentation. The donor wound usually takes 10-21 days to heal.
What is the meaning of skin donor site & where is it?
This donor site acts as the source for your new skin cells. The most common area for this donor site is the thigh, back of your leg or the back of the ear. Typically the donor site is the size of 2 postage stamps. It is harvested with a special blade that removes the upper layers of skin.
In ReCell therapy for white scars & vitiligo this donor site contains skin pigment cells called melanocytes. It is these cells that are harvested from the donor sites that will re-populate the white areas of your skin.
Why is phototherapy so important after the ReCell treatment?
The best method of stimulating the transplanted pigment cells is a process called phototherapy. Phototherapy awakens pigment cells in new tissue to produce melanin. This gives skin colour. The process of repigmentation often takes between 6-12 months. Phototherapy is provided by Medicare & takes 2-3 minutes to perform, three times a week.
If you do not have access to phototherapy you can use a hand held UVB source. These devices are not as accurate as calibrated medical devices.
Who is not suitable for ReCell Therapy?
ReCell skin therapy is only suitable for a minority of vitiligo patients. This treatment is only indicated if your vitiligo fails to respond to conventional treatment including phototherapy and anti-inflammatory creams.Your vitiligo has to be stable for at least 15 months before ReCell skin therapy. This ensures that treatment has the highest chances of success.
If you can not commit to 6 to 12 months of phototherapy, then ReCell is not recommended. Phototherapy is the stimulus for pigment cells to produce melanin. Without it, the chances of re-pigmentation is very slim.
What are my other options, apart from ReCell?
The majority of vitiligo patients will have a good response to treatments with phototherapy and anti-inflammatory creams. Success rates of over 90% can be seen for facial vitiligo.
Anti-inflammatory creams halt the immune attack on the pigment cells, whilst narrowband phototherapy awakens the pigment cells hiding in hair follicles in turn repigmenting vitiligo.
ReCell therapy is most frequently applied to stable vitiligo involving the hands, wrist and forearms as these areas have a low incidence of re-pigmentation with phototherapy and creams.
For white or hypopigmented scars, the use of small spot CO2 lasers coupled with pigment stimulators such as Latiesse or tacrolimus can give good results. This applies to scars from acne, shingles & even some cases of trauma / picking secondary to drugs.
What are the potential side effects of ReCell treatment?
ReCell therapy is very safe as this treatment uses your own skin cells. The risk of therapy applies to the side effects of laser therapy and donor site harvesting.
Side effects of recipient and donor site harvesting include-
- Scarring at recipient site (rare)
- Scarring at donor site (common). Raised scar tissue is not uncommon on the legs, especially in younger patients. This can be treated with silicone, compression, dilute steroid injections, 5FU, microneedling with CS, fractional lasers with steroid occlusion & vascular lasers.
- Infection (rare)
- Failure to respond (common). This treatment does not guarantee an absolute response.
- Patchy pigmentation (very common). Usually in the first few months of therapy.
How successful is ReCell?
ReCell therapy has an intermediate success rate. The success rate of a surgeon is based upon the cases one elects to perform. In the context of hypopigmented scars, approximately 40-60% have good responses. In the context of stable vitiligo, it is around 30-50%. Recurrences are only seen in vitiligo patients with progressive vitiligo. Recurrence is not seen in scar therapy with ReCell.
Does Medicare cover this treatment?
In the context or ReCell itself, no. Medicare does cover your re-pigmentation from phototherapy. A rebate applies to some cases of recipient site preparation using fully ablative laser resurfacing.
What is the cost or ReCell?
ReCell costs vary depending on the condition and treatment size. This therapy cost between $3900- $6900 to perform.
This includes –
- Anaesthetic fees
- Operating theatre fees
- Assistant fees
- Nursing fees
- ReCell kit
- Laser operation costs
Phototherpy is bulk billed if you have Medicare.
Davin’s Viewpoint on ReCell
Patient selection is critical for ReCell treatment to be successful. Firstly, let’s consider vitiligo. When do I recommend ReCell treatment? There are 3 factors that determine how good ReCell works for vitiligo.
Firstly, vitiligo must be stable. This means no changes in the areas involved for at least 15 months. Secondly the area involved should be small, realistically half a palm size. It is better to place a high concentration of pigment cells in a small area, rather than dilution of application. Thirdly, patient compliance must be high, namely a will to undertake phototherapy for at least 6, preferably 12 months. This gives the highest rate of success as UV stimulates the donor cells to produce pigment.
ReCell can also be considered for the treatment of white, hypopigmented scars, most commonly secondary to acne, traumatic picking, caustic, thermal or chemical burns. ReCell replenishes depleted pigment cells in scars, and stimulates repigmentation over the months. Most patients undergo one treatment. Once skin colour returns, the re-pigmentation is complete and permanent. My algorithm is that the majority of patients will usually respond to more cost-effective treatments with fractional lasers & pigmentent stimulating topicals, ReCell is reserved for non-responsive cases.
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