Category: Stem Cell Research & Regeneration


Stem Cell Facelift, Vampire Facelifts? Buyer Beware!

Vampire faceliftMy office received a phone call last week asking if we offered either stem cell facelifts or vampire facelifts?? We were happy to say no…not that we do not like being early adopters of new technology, but because these two procedures have marketing claims that are far ahead of any science. In other words…HYPE.

So what might advertisers mean by stem cell facelift? Fat is one of the body’s tissues that carry adult stem cells. When a facelift is performed, fat can be added to bring fullness to sites of volume loss. In fat transfer to the face, a small number of stem cells may be moved at the same time. We do not know how many (if any!) are being transferred, and we do not know if they will become activated in their new home, to provide the hoped for repair and youthful, healthy look. The procedure for fat grafting is a good one, but calling it a “stem cell” facelift is hyperbole (HYPE!!).

The “vampire” facelift is also not ready for prime time. The procedure involves drawing a tube of your blood, spinning it down to isolate the portion that contains the most white cells, known as the buffy coat. The theory is that this fraction contains more growth factors and possibly stem cells. To date this is all unproven. Surgeons that use this as a selling point for their services  are trying to win confidence by suggesting that they are employing a “cutting edge” technology, but these claims are unfounded.

The American Society of Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons published a joint position paper in 2011 on stem cells and fat grafting. In this paper they state:

“Extreme caution should be exercised when a physician is promising results from any treatment that sounds too good to be true. Stem cells in aesthetic surgery are promising, but marketing claims are far ahead of the science.”

Anti-aging, Beauty, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Fat Transfer / Fat Grafting, Stem Cell Research & Regeneration

What Does Stem Cell Research Have to Do With Plastic Surgery?

Stem cells are multi potential cells that have the capacity to develop into a variety of fully differentiated tissues and can enhance regeneration and repair. There is much excitement in the world of medical research about their therapeutic possibilities, all in experimental stages to date. In the laboratory, stem cells have been able to evolve into heart cells, neurons, skeletal muscle, pancreatic cells, bone, cartilage, and blood cells. Stem cells are present in embryos but have also been identified in bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and in fat. Stem cells from embryos have been highly controversial, but those derived from adult tissues are being explored as more acceptable. Fat tissue is an ideal source as it is plentiful and easy to harvest by liposuction, the most commonly performed procedure by plastic surgeons.

Fat grafting is now used by plastic surgeons for both cosmetic and reconstructive purposes. Harvested adipose tissue is treated and then reinjected for facial rejuvenation, lip enhancement, for contouring bodies and for restoring post traumatic defects. In the future it maybe possible to enhance the restorative properties of the transplanted fat by supplementing it with stem cells derived from the fat. These adipose derived stem cells (ADSC) have properties that include attracting new blood vessels into the area, referred to as angiogenesis. ADSC also are able to reproduce themselves, so it is hoped that they will make fat transfers more likely to thrive in their new area of transfer and more likely to last a long time.

Research is being conducted in hopes of using stem cells to regenerate whole organs. If a person’s own stem cells can be harvested and directed to grow into what is needed (say a kidney or a liver) it may be possible to get around rejection of transplanted tissues from other people. ADSC provided as a byproduct of liposuction procedures could prove to be a valuable resource rather than medical waste.

It is unknown how long it will take to advance to making new differentiated tissues, but their use in plastic surgery for enhancing the take of transplanted fat may be a new and exciting development. Plastic surgeons are watching closely to see how this medical research evolves.

Fat Transfer / Fat Grafting, Stem Cell Research & Regeneration

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