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Use of Stem Cells in Cosmetic Surgery


Use of Stem Cells in Cosmetic Surgery Scientists have figured out a way to harvest stem cells, those celebrated and controversial medical miracles, from fat removed during cosmetic surgery. It is a discovery that may both bolster scientists’ quest for elusive cures and also be just another reason to shed some extra fat. If liposuction can help science, will slimming your waist or thighs become a philanthropic act?

“Because plastic surgeons are the ‘kings of fat,’ we’re trying to make fat do good,” says J. Peter Rubin, M.D., assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine. Dr. Rubin is also president of the fledging International Fat Applied Technology Society (IFATS) an organization of scientists who are finding ways to use fat in medicine.

Ongoing research points to the enormous potential of using stem cells derived from liposuction in cosmetic surgery. Stem cells, which are simply cells that haven’t decided what they want to be when they grow up, are widely considered one of science’s best tools for developing cures for many diseases. These include spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease. A stem cell can be taken from fat, before it has become a fat cell, and can be coaxed into becoming any number of other types of cells that can be used in heart, brain or colon tissue or to new bone or cartilage. Eventually, scientists hope, these modified organisms will be used to replace diseased cells all over the body.

What about stem cells being used in cosmetic surgery? A new study suggests that silicon breast implants could be replaced by tissue grown from a person’s own stem cells within a decade. Jeremy Mao of the University of Illinois took human stem cells and used these to grow fat tissue using biologically compatible scaffolding. He then successfully implanted the tissue into mice with an immune deficiency to prevent them from rejecting the implants. The implants had maintained their size and shape after four weeks. How promising for women seeking reconstructive breast surgery!

Implants grown from stem cells have the potential to provide a safer alternative to silicone or saline implants – which can rupture and also interfere with breast cancer detection. They could also be aesthetically superior, keeping their shape and size for longer than artificial inserts, which typically shrink 40 percent to 60 percent over many years.

The research into fat-derived cells is still in the very early stages and many questions remain, but there is good evidence the fat-derived cells can also morph into skeletal muscle and blood vessel tissues.

Current lab research reveals that some progress is being made with human fat that, until now, is just thrown away. For instance:
  • One U.S. group is showing results using fat-derived stem cells in treating Crohn’s disease, an intestinal disorder.
  • Another group used the cells to turn to bone and heal defects in the skulls of mice.
  • Korean scientists reported last year that when they put human fat-derived cells into the brains of rats that had simulated strokes, the animals showed some improvement.
  • Researchers at Tulane University gave pigs experimental heart attacks, took fat-derived cells from the porkers and then put them into the hearts of the same donor animals. Those hearts began to work better.
  • According to the University of Pittsburg Medical Center, about 150,000 gallons of liposuction fat is discarded yearly. Moreover, IFAT scientists think hundreds of millions of stem cells can be obtained from one liposuction patient. One pint of such fat or one pound of whole fat removed in a tummy tuck, for example, can yield up to 200 million stem cells, which in culture, can be expanded by ten times in about two weeks.


Soon, liposuction may be an even more common procedure than it is now with a guilt-free conscious from selfishness because of the wonderful benefits it can have for so many people in need.



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