To McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member, J. Peter Rubin, MD (pictured), uncontaminated fat is incredibly valuable. Dr. Rubin, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Adipose Stem Cell Center, believes it will one day be invaluable to many patients as well. He and other scientists have found that stem cells from fat (adipose) can be coaxed to become different kinds of tissue—bone, cartilage, and nerves. Researchers have also used fat stem cells to kill cancer cells in mice.
Fat stem cells are adult stem cells, not the controversial embryonic stem cells. Fat stem cells appear to have some advantages over other types of adult stem cells. They are very accessible, hardy, and plentiful. In Dr. Rubin’s clinical practice, he is known for liposuction treatments and resculpting excess flesh from morbidly obese patients who have undergone gastric bypass operations. With consent from the patients and approval from the University of Pittsburgh’s Institutional Review Board, “research” fat is abundant in Dr. Rubin’s operating room.
Dr. Rubin shares his supply of fat with the labs of several McGowan Institute faculty members—Kacy Marra, PhD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-director of the University of Pittsburgh Adipose Stem Cell Center; Vera Donnenberg, PhD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Albert Donnenberg, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, director of University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute's (UPCI) Flow Cytometry Facility, Deputy Director of the Stem Cell Transplantation Program, and Director of UPCI Bone Marrow Processing Laboratory. Through collaboration, Dr. Rubin is exploring whether fat stem cells can help regenerate nerves (with Dr. Marra) and blood cells (with Drs. Donnenberg). Dr. Rubin’s primary interest is in using fat stem cells to regenerate breast tissue for cancer patients who’ve had mastectomies. This approach could replace the use of implants or tissue from other parts of the body. He hopes for a clinical trial using fat stem cells for regenerating soft tissue in reconstructive surgery this year. Dr. Rubin’s ability to link research with his clinical and operating room time is a unique and winning combination.
“I need to collaborate with people who have a skill set I don’t have,” Dr. Rubin says. “Collaboration is incredibly important. If you bring the right people together, really cool things happen.”
More on the history of research using human adipose tissue that is removed from liposuction patients and then coaxed to become other kinds of tissue is outlined in a story called “Liquid Gold” in the Summer 2008 issue of PittMED. Author Michael Fitzgerald follows Dr. Rubin through a typical work day that includes a liposuction surgery.
Dr. Rubin also serves as Director of the Life After Weight Loss clinical program, Director of the Adipocyte Biology Laboratory, and Co-Director, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Aesthetic Surgery Center.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
PittMED (Summer 2008)
Dr. Rubin biography
Dr. Marra biography
Dr. A. Donnenberg biography
Dr. V. Donnenberg biography
Abstract (Annals of Plastic Surgery. 60(5):538-544, May 2008.)