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Anti-Aging: Stem Cells

By New You Editorial
Posted On May 04, 2011

One of the great medical breakthroughs of modern medicine is the use of adult stem cells, derived most easily from fat. Stem cell treatments are a type of intervention strategy that introduces new cells into damaged tissue in order to treat disease or injury. These cells take on the characteristics of tissue they are introduced to, and therefore begin to repair the tissue by replacing damaged cells. Recent breakthroughs include repair to skin, muscle and cartilage, with nerve tissue next.

Up until recently the media has largely focused on the more controversial embryonic stem cells. These are stem cells derived from embryos. The potential uses of these cells to cure and treat diseases remain vast, but the controversial source of the cells poses ethical questions that have delayed medical progress.

During the past decade, researchers have discovered that stem cells can also be extracted from your own fat tissue. These ‘adipose-derived’ adult stem cells have the same potential as embryonic stem cells, except for the ability to differentiate into sperm or ova. Unlike embryonic stem cells, stem cells extracted from your own fat are abundant, easily available, and pose no ethical or political controversy.

Cosmetic Enhancements vs. Disease Therapies
The FDA does not allow doctors to promote the use of stem cell therapies to treat diseases unless you are part of a clinical trial. In this capacity they are considered to be ‘drug therapy’ and subject to very strict regulation. Therefore, many patients currently travel outside of the U.S. to get these therapies.

On the other hand, the use of your own (autologous) stem cells to restore a more youthful appearance is available now. These therapies do not fall under the FDA’s ‘drug therapy’ guidelines, because they do not involve drugs, merely your own fat being re-injected in the same operative session as the liposuction procedure to remove the fat. Also, the stem cells have been only minimally manipulated, and their use to enhance fat transfer does not alter the original biologic mission of the stem cell.

However, if your autologous stem cells are re-injected in a separate or second operative session, it is unclear whether the FDA considers that application to be a drug therapy, even though it is used for the same cosmetic purpose.

Stem Cell Enhanced Fat Injections
Surgeons have been extracting fat cells since the early 1990s for the purpose of re-injecting them into other tissue for over a decade. The process has not always worked perfectly, however, and surgeons have learned that successful fat grafting is highly dependent on the techniques used. As it turns out, some methods for extracting, processing, and reinjection fat cells results in high concentrations of adult stem cells in the fat. This has produced not only long lasting results, but also repairs in injured tissues

To perform stem cell enhanced fat grafting, fat is first extracted by liposuction. The fat is then processed to isolated, concentrate and activate the stem cells. Techniques include centrifugation and chemically processing the extracted fat. Long lasting results are only achieved with proper fat processing techniques. The fat must also be re-injected in very small quantities and distributed through all tissue layers to facilitate reestablishment of blood flow to the fat grafts.

Examples of stem cell enhanced fat transfers include:

  1. Face Fat Graft – This fat restores facial volume and rejuvenates facial tissues and skin. By increasing blood supply to tissues, it also makes tissue look younger.
  2. Breast Augmentation – Fat injections provide a natural alternative to breast implants, and can continue to build fat in the breast subsequent to the ‘transfer.’
  3. Butt Lifts – Originally used for buttock enhancement, stem cell enhanced fat transfers are being used in body contouring to create an hourglass figure.
  4. Hand Rejuvenation – As in the face, this is not only a volume enhancement, but aged hand skin is revitalized by the fat transfer.