The discovery that fat is one of the most generous sources of stem cells in the body has generated excitement in plastic surgery as much as it has within mainstream medicine. With the theoretical potential to someday provide more effective treatments to diverse medical problems such as neurologic diseases, cardiovascular problems, and even tissue regeneration in reconstructive surgery, the research activity on this ‘wonder’ cell’ is nothing short of feverish.
Who would have thought that the very thing so many of us struggle to get rid of may someday be the key to new medical treatments? That’s like finding an outfit in the back of the closet that not only still fits but is back in style. (OK, that is beyond the common definition of a miracle.) Since fat can be easily extracted through liposuction, and it contains a high concentration of stem cells, whole new cosmetic uses are being derived for what is known as stem cell-derived fat grafting (SCFG). Fat is being injected all over the body by plastic surgeons, mainly because it is easy to do and perfectly safe. Injected fat has many body uses from body contouring to facial rejuvenation. For the body, buttock augmentation and breast reconstruction (lumpectomy defects) are being widely done. Fat-transplant breast augmentations are being approached more cautiously, but even this use is gaining momentum. Another excellent use for our own ‘fat’ is for hand rejuvenation- using the injected fat to fill hollows between the extensor tendons and to camouflage prominent veins.The face, however, is the most common target for fat and its stem cells. As we age, we lose fat in our faces, and it produces a deflated look. This facial deflation is one of the reasons that we begin to look older and our skin appears to slide from our faces and into our necks. This has led to younger people getting fat injections at an early age and fat injections being used as part of a facelift procedure for more advanced degrees of facial aging.
But, with every bit of hope comes a little or a lot of hype. In the most contemporary spin on fat grafting to the face, right out of Beverly Hills, comes the Stem Cell Face Lift. The theory is that stem cell-rich fat grafts combined with skin tightening makes for a better facelift result. Proponents espouse the theory that the stem cells provide a regenerative effect on the skin, also resulting in smaller pore size and less wrinkling and pigmentation.
Is this actual science or science fiction? Stem cell researchers would most certainly tell us that how such cells behave isn’t so simple. While moving them from one place to another in the body seems as though it should work…that doesn’t necessarily make it so. Conversely, a Stem Cell Facelift is a perfectly natural procedure that has no harmful effects, an almost organic procedure if you will. It uses the patient’s own tissues and may exemplify the appealing concept of ‘heal thyself’. It may even be considered a green procedure, a bit of body recycling if you will.
The use of stem cells in a cosmetic procedure may one day be the key to the proverbial fountain of youth. But for now, it more likely represents a common occurrence that has been used by overzealous cosmetic providers for years. Extrapolating a bit of science into a marketing phenomenon for patient recruitment. It may in fact generate some ‘green’ – but it’s not magic.
Dr. Barry Eppley