Refacing the traditional facelift: stem cell injections

November 10, 2011

Can stem cells beef up a sunken face?
Can stem cells beef up a sunken face?

Get ready for still another magic elixir from the soda fountain of youth: your belly fat. TV shows such as “Extra” and “Good Morning LA” are now showcasing docs that claim, “Look 10 years younger with the help of your belly fat. Cells from your belly make the classic facelift obsolete.”

Scientists have found that our own fat cells contain “prefat” cells, which are actually stem cells that have the ability to multiply into fat, bone or other tissue, similar to the way embryonic stem cells function. The procedure goes like this: remove fat cells from the belly or thigh via liposuction; process this liquid to extract the prefat or stem cells; activate the stem cells, perhaps by exposing them to light from a laser; and then inject them, alone or mixed with fat, into facial areas that need plumping.

Many doctors across the country have jumped on the bandwagon, advertising this procedure in print and on YouTube, but mainstream medicine has yet to give its seal of approval. What is not disputed is that fat cells are, in fact, a rich source of stem cells. Therefore, this is a very promising area. Currently, there is no FDA approval for the use of stem cells in aesthetic medicine or surgery. According to a recent position paper jointly issued by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and American Society of Plastic Surgeons, "Stem cells in aesthetic surgery are promising, but marketing claims are too far ahead of the science."

Joan Kron, in the October Allure magazine, interviewed stem-cell biologist and plastic surgeon Michael Longaker, co-director of Stanford University's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.

When she asked Longaker what his idea of a stem cell facelift is, his reply indicated that this was not the simple miracle advertised on YouTube. “Without strictly proving that the cells you are putting in the face are stem cells, it is very difficult to imagine what a stem cell facelift is. If someone sucks your fat out, spins it down in a centrifuge and puts it back in your body, that's just processed fat. Plus, to make actual stem cells into other types of cells, you have to coach them. They won't do it automatically.”
Kron then asked if there was an advantage in having a higher concentration of stem cells when injecting autologous fat into the face. Longaker’s reply: “It's a theoretical advantage. We do not know if stem cell-enriched fat is better than un-enriched fat. That would require more experiments.”

Further, Longaker said you cannot prove there are supplemental stem cells in transplanted fat without marking the stem cells. In his lab they use strict analysis and biologic definitions to identify stem cells.

In terms of patient testimonials, indicating marked improvement with stem cells, Longaker says, “That has never been rigorously proven. I challenge people in the field to show me the data.”

However, Longaker predicts a great future for stem cells in aesthetic surgery. “There are incredible possibilities for stem cell biology to impact human health. I expect eventually we will be able to replace burn scars. We could isolate a patient's skin stem cells, cut off their scar, and regenerate skin. That would be huge. There are many labs working on how to use stem cells and hair follicles to grow new hair. And if you lost a breast because of cancer and a mastectomy, we could use fat-derived stem cells to engineer a new one.”  


The mission of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) includes medical education, public education and patient advocacy. Plastic Surgery News Briefs are summaries of current stories found through various news and magazine outlets that relate to or mention plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. The views expressed in these news articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASAPS, but are merely published as an educational service to our members and the general public. For additional information on these subjects and other plastic surgery related topics, please go to www.surgery.org

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About ASAPS
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), is recognized as the world’s leading organization devoted entirely to aesthetic plastic surgery and cosmetic medicine of the face and body.  ASAPS is comprised of over 2,600 Plastic Surgeons; active members are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (USA) or by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and have extensive training in the complete spectrum of surgical and non-surgical aesthetic procedures. International active members are certified by equivalent boards of their respective countries. All members worldwide adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and must meet stringent membership requirements.

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