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.

Category: Fat Transfer / Fat Grafting, Stem Cell Research & Regeneration

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