Stem Cells and Plastic Surgery – the Future?

Much has been made over the past several years regarding the healing potential of stem cells. This has not been without some controversy, and that controversy has been related to the use of embryonic stem cells. The harvest of these cells results in the destruction of an embryo and thus have not been used in clinical applications. Fortunately, another source of stem cells exist in the adult. Stem cells can be taken from the bone marrow as well as another recently discovered source – fat! Liposuction is a particularly good means to acquire adult derived stem cells, and you get the simultaneous benefit of improving your body contour as we acquire the tissues needed to process.

Stem cells have been purported to enhance the survival of fat grafts, improve the quality of damaged skin, enhance the thickness of skin and soft tissues, and, most notably, been employed in the creation of organs, heart valves and blood vessels in the laboratory. Potentially serving as a cellular “fountain of youth.”

Stem cells retain the ability to differentiate (grow and develop) into nearly every cell type under the proper cellular growth factors. As we learn more about what makes a cell grow or change, it is likely that science will continue to expand the role of stem cells in clinical medicine.

Plastic surgery has already adopted the technology and is actively researching its effects. However, the marketing of these “techniques” have progressed far beyond the current scientific understanding. There are “stem cell face-lifts” and “supercharged fat grafts” but none of this has been proven to be as effective as the advertisements might claim. Thus, a consumer must approach these situations with a healthy degree of skepticism regarding the claims. This is not to discount the techniques as a whole, but we don’t understand them to the degree that is required to make the statements commonly advertised.

What does the future hold? It is likely that we will be able to inject stem cells in your IV which will be targeted to the area of concern and then help your body rebuild itself with a new heart muscle or liver, kidney, spinal cord, or even breast.

Stay tuned for the future, but beware of “snake oil” salesmen selling it before its ripe!

Vincent Marin, MD, FACS

San Diego Plastic Surgeon

About the Author:

Dr. Vince Marin is a San Diego board-certified plastic surgeon specializes in cosmetic surgery of the face, nose, breast and body. If you wish to contact Dr. Marin, write to [email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter!