Implant Helps Those With Skin Diseases, and Gives Them a Tan Too

Skin implant promising help for certain skin diseases also offers tan.

ByABC News
August 29, 2011, 2:28 PM

Aug. 30, 2011— -- For Robert Saupe, there was never any such thing as fun in the sun. He has a condition called erythropoietic protoporphyria, or EPP, a rare disease that causes extreme sensitivity to sunlight and certain types of artificial light.

"I don't go outside without having a long-sleeve shirt on, a hat, a bandanna and gloves," he said.

EPP is caused by elevated levels of porphyrins, the chemicals responsible for the synthesis of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in the blood, producing a toxic reaction to the sun. After the skin is exposed for only a short time, it can turn extremely red and develop symptoms of intense itching, swelling and burning.

EPP is especially challenging for Saupe in the summer, since he works outdoors as an excavator.

"On the hot days wearing all that -- it's exhausting," said Saupe, 45. "There are times I want to pass out."

But a tiny implant helped Saupe finally enjoy the joys of summer that most people take for granted. The implant, called Scenesse, increases the levels of melanin in the skin, which provides protection against ultraviolet rays. The protective effect lasts about two months, according to Clinuvel, the drug's Australian manufacturer.

"I got to live an normal life," said Saupe, 45. "I got to go in the lake with my granddaughters and we had a lot of fun."

There are few treatments available for EPP. According to the American Porphyria Foundation, beta-carotene is the most effective therapy available, and acts by making the skin less sensitive to sun.