We’ve all heard about stem cells. They’re like the millenium’s new “black.” But why, again?
Stem cells are progenitor cells. Think of them as generic cells that can morph into whatever type of cell that surrounds them, as well as enhance the existing cells with extra hormone-type substances—called “growth factors”—that they secrete. There is promising research being done right now that gives us hope that one day adult human stem cells will be used to restore injured tissue after heart attacks, or even spinal cord injuries.
So how did plastic surgeons get involved with something that started out as a potential “magic cure” for heart failure and paralysis?
One of the most exciting discoveries has been that the same fat we’ve been discarding in the hazardous waste containers after liposuction cases (and no, it’s not Fight Club and we don’t make soap with it, as every guy seems to think is the most hilarious question to ask me) is chock full of stem cells. And most of us have at least some of that to spare.
So what does it mean when your surgery is enhanced with your stem cells?
Usually it is a procedure that already involves fat injection. Then it means that your plastic surgeon is additionally using an expensive machine to isolate out an even more concentrated number of stem cells from the fat, and injecting it all back in together wherever the fat is going—usually the face, breasts or buttocks. It also means that you are probably paying extra because the plastic surgeon has to pay off the loan on the machine, and for whatever expensive Google marketing they’re doing to sell their “stem cell” surgeries.
So is it worth the extra money?
There has been promising data regarding the positive effects of fat injection. I have seen it firsthand not only in my “natural breast augmentation” patients, but in cases where it has softened radiated tissue and improved pain and sensation in my breast reconstruction patients. And the science points toward the stem cells and their growth factors as the main reason for this success. However, there is no hard data to prove that isolating out some of the stem cells and then mixing it up with the fat to give you “supercharged stem cell” fat injections is superior to just injecting the fat with its regular stem cell concentration. But the term “Stem Cell” has become as much of a marketing buzz-word as “SmartLipo™” did four years ago (See my Smart Lipo post) and this is where it gets confusing.
My main concern has always been whether or not the additional stem cells are helpful in the “take” of the fat in a natural breast augmentation, as this is a procedure that has become a big part of my practice. I have taken an informal poll of the experts at the meetings, and I have found that it is basically a split camp. In general, many of the plastic surgeons in Japan and the ones here in the U.S. who have stock in the stem cell companies like Cytori are huge stem cell advocates. However, I’ve spoken personally with fat-grafting pioneers such as Dr. Gino Rigotti, Dr. Mel Bircoll and Dr. Roger Khouri, all who disagree.
So far I am personally getting great long-term results in my natural breast augmentation patients without supercharging the fat with more stem cells. In fact, one of my first “guinea pigs” just emailed me some pictures, bragging about how much appreciation her breasts were getting. I believe the direct quote was: “Oh my God, Boobs are so great! They do all the work for you—I don’t even have to open my mouth anymore! I wish I’d done this sooner. When I was younger I used to feel sorry for the girls who had to show off their boobs to get attention, but let me tell you—they were onto something!”
I also did spend a spa day with another one of my first volunteers and Read More