Just two days ago I had a patient come into the office to ask questions about rejuvenation procedures she had done “elsewhere.” One of her questions was about stem cell therapy, which she had done recently. It had been promoted to her as “the latest and greatest” treatment, without any reservations stated to her about its efficacy.
But what is the reality of stem cell therapy? Dr. David Reiter the Medical Editor of Facial Plastic Times, recently reviewed important work on this topic which had been published in Discovery Medicine by Tobita, Orbay and Miazuno. Some of their findings included the following.
Adipose (i.e. fat) tissue is a great source of stem cells. They are easily obtained with liposuction and basic science studies show they are safe and effective in regenerating new tissue such as bone, cartilage, fat, muscle and nerve. They may also promote wound healing by stimulating the growth of blood vessels, fibroblasts and collagen. In bone they secrete growth factors that increase bone growth and healing.
Last year Kolle in The Lancet felt that “stem cell enriched fat grafting might prove to be an attractive alternative to major tissue augmentation, such as breast reconstruction…” With these pre-clinical (i.e. studies which have not yet been done in humans) findings, there is much enthusiasm for further basic research which will lead to more clinical trials in patients.
One such trial saw abdominal fat harvested by liposuction and injected into the upper arms. One injection was enriched with the patient’s own stem cells and one without. In medicine we call the latter the “control” or untreated arm of the study. The amount of fat present in each site was measured at four months after injection, and the stem cell-treated grafts had an 81% volume-retention rate, the untreated control just 16%.
In summary, we may have much to look forward to regarding the positive impact of stem cell therapy on regeneration of tissues for both reconstructive and aesthetic purposes. However, as of right now, all of this work is still experimental. There are as of yet no scientific grounds for stem cell therapy outside the realm of established studies. And claims by doctors or patients about superior results from procedures that have not been proven are unwarranted and should be met with caution. It still remains “caveat emptor.”
But… keep posted! Some breakthrough clinical innovations and applications in stem cell therapy may soon be on the way!