Stem cells are cells that have the potential to become any type of tissue, given the proper signals for growth. Stem cells are harvested primarily from a patients own fat or bone marrow. The goals with stem cell therapy are to regenerate diseased or damaged tissues. There is a huge potential with stem cells in the treatment of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and spinal cord disorders.
There are a few applications for stem cell therapy in plastic surgery including fat grafting and wound healing. At the ASAPS 2011 meeting in Boston, a lot of attention was given to stems cells and their role in fat grafting. It has been speculated that the addition of stem cells to fat cells prior to grafting can improve the amount of fat survival.
“Stem cell breast augmentation” and “stem cell facelift” are procedures where fat is harvested and a portion of this fat is used to isolate and concentrate stem cells. These cells are reinjected with the fat to enhance the results of fat grafting. This is a poorly understood process and a lot of research is ongoing to figure it out.
Some cosmetic surgeons and a few plastic surgeons, are capitalizing on marketing “stem cell breast augmentation” and “stem cell facelifts”. This is usually intentionally misleading. In reality, these procedures amount to standard fat grafting in the breasts and face. Technically there are a few stems cells in fat, but the term “stem cell therapy” should only be applied to procedures that specifically isolate these cells. Processes to concentrate and inject stem cells into the body are not FDA approved and at this time illegal, aside from IRB investigational studies.
I am not sure whether the future of fat grafting involves stem cells or not. What I can say at this time is there is promise but we are lacking information. If your doctor offers “stem cell breast augmentation” or “stem cell facelift” look very closely at his/her qualifications.