These “new” procedures are flooding the media and Internet as the next best thing in cosmetic surgery. But are they really new? NO. All of these procedures are simply fat transfer procedures! These procedures are not new or innovative. Fat transfer procedures have been around since the 80’s, when liposuction became available. A fat transfer procedure (fat grafting, fat autographs, autologous fat transplantation, fat injecting or microlipoinjection) harvests fat from one part of the body using liposuction techniques and then places it in another part of the body where the fat is used for cosmetic enhancement. Typically the abdomen or thighs are used as the fatty tissue donor site, and the fat harvested is injected into your face, breasts, or buttocks for volume.
Stem cells are present in many tissues of the body, including fat. These cells have the ability to develop into different cell types. They can release growth factors that can assist in the process of healing and regenerating tissues. Standard fat grafting procedures, which naturally transfer some stem cells normally present in the fat, are not “stem cell procedures”. Stem cell procedures need to involve a method to collect and concentrate stem cells. As to whether stem cells can be activated and concentrated and therefore change the procedure from simple fat grafting to a true stem cell procedure is unclear. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of any stem cell activating agents or devices, and large-scale studies have not been conducted to prove either effectiveness or safety. So if your stem cells could be concentrated and reinjected, we have no evidence that your result would be better or longer lasting.
What are the risks associated with Fat Transfer and Stem cell procedures? Because stem cell procedures do not have FDA approval, the full risks are unknown. The main problem with fat injection procedures is the unpredictability in the result. Depending on the surgeon, the patient, and several other factors, the body is reported to reabsorb anywhere from 20 to 95 percent of transferred fat. Generally, 40-60% of the transferred fat can persist permanently. However, results are extremely technique dependent and variable. So be comfortable with a lack of permanence in the results and potentially needing a touch up procedure to maintain the result. Other risks associated with these procedures include undercorrection, overcorrection, contour irregularities, bruising, swelling, redness, infection, sensation change, lumpiness or firmness and general dissatisfaction with the end result.
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) and The American Society of Plastic Surgeons(ASPS) position on this issue is as follows: “The marketing and promotion of stem cell procedures in aesthetic surgery is not adequately supported by clinical evidence at this time. Extreme caution should be exercised when a physician is promising results from any treatment that sound too good to be true.”
I do believe that stem cells may offer beneficial medical therapies both in the field of plastic surgery and in treating disease. I banked my baby’s umbilical cord blood and tissue, for the benefit of having access to both the lifesaving qualities of cord blood and the potential future uses of cord tissue that are in research stages. As for cosmetic surgical procedures using stem cells, right now, there is no scientific proof that stem cell procedures are safe and effective, and really do what the marketing claims advertise. As with umbilical cord tissue, we are still very early in the research stages. Fat transfer procedures will always have a role in cosmetic surgery. Fatty tissue is one of most well tolerated fillers available to aesthetic surgeons, and thus has broad applications. It is natural appearing, lasts a long time, and is safe. It is an effective filler used for changing body contour, revising scars, filling depressions created by liposuction, and rejuvenating the hands and face.
Dr. Hayley Brown MD, FACS
Las Vegas Breast Augmentation Surgeon
Desert Hills Plastic Surgery Center, Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada