Plastic surgeons in Japan, Europe, and Israel are harvesting fat and stem cells from hips and thighs to sculpt bigger, shapelier breasts without the leaks, slippage, and short shelf life that often accompany saline and silicone implants. At least that's the claim. The procedure is controversial among researchers in the United States (it's not available there...yet—human studies could begin in the next 3 to 5 years).
"These are adult stem cells, not embryonic cells, so the concern isn't an ethical one about an embryonic source," says McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
faculty member J. Peter Rubin, MD (pictured), Associate Professor of Plastic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, co-director of the Adipose Stem Cell Center at the University of Pittsburgh, and co-founder and chairman of the International Federation of Adipose Therapeutics and Science. "Stem cells from fat tissue can turn into blood vessels and make new fat cells, so they could create long-lasting tissue for breast augmentation and reconstruction. But there are safety issues."
Cancer, for one. "We don't know yet whether these cells have the potential to go awry and become tumor cells themselves or whether they could influence cancer cells left behind in breast cancer patients undergoing reconstruction," Dr. Rubin says. "We also don't know whether injecting fat into the breast could obscure small cancers normally detected by mammograms."
To find answers to this and other safety issues, research studies are being performed at the Adipose Stem Cell Center. In a recent study, Dr. Rubin and colleagues agreed the repair of soft tissue defects, particularly after trauma and oncologic surgery, represents a major clinical challenge. While current reconstructive procedures can move soft tissue from other areas of the body, there remains an unmet need for new modalities that are less invasive and more precise. Adipose tissue is the key component necessary for soft tissue reconstruction. Their review discussed the discovery and potential of adult stem therapies in the regeneration of adipose tissue. They examined adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs) as cell delivery systems for soft tissue reconstruction. In addition to a further understanding of the biology of ASCs, appropriate biomaterials (e.g., cell delivery vehicles), rapid expansion of stem cells using bioreactors, and suitable animal models for adipose tissue engineering needed for successful stem cell therapies were reviewed.
The Center partners physician-researchers with investigators in the fields of tissue engineering, cell therapy, adipose biology, stem cell physiology, and growth and development. Together they are conducting scientific studies on a post-cancer breast reconstruction technique that uses a woman’s own stem cells, isolated from a sample of her fat, to form a breast with the look and feel of natural tissue. The expertise and efforts of the Center’s team of medical and scientific professionals continue to move forward to translate their findings into new medical treatments.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
The Adipose Stem Cell Center
Bio: Dr. J. Peter Rubin
Abstract (Current Stem Cell Research & Therapy. Online print: 2009 Nov 26)