In addition to facial rejuvenation, buttock and breast augmentation, stem cell marketing has reached such peaks that one may posit that they harbor the solution for global warming.
A recent study came out in our esteemed, peer-reviewed journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery addressing stem cell enriched fat transfer versus “regular” fat transfer (PRS Journal: stem cell rich fat transfer). In essence, this study showed there was no difference in the effects of a fat transfer whether it was enriched with stem cells or not. This was essentially the same conclusion of a blog post I wrote a few years back. However, what makes this news different is that it comes from a well-designed, randomized prospective study.
You may then ask yourself why are there so many doctors promoting stem cell facelifts and fat transfers as being the chalice of youth or life’s elixir to immortality and aging. The simple answer is finance and marketing. By promoting your fat transfer as being different, labeling it with the trendy buzz prefix of “stem cell”, prospective patients will naturally think they are getting something better, longer-lasting and more natural.
You may then ask yourself why their before-and-after photos are impressive. The simple answer is that for every before-and-after photo of a stem cell-enriched fat transfer there are 10 equally-as-impressive before-and-after results from regular fat transfers. The bottom line is that one can achieve equivalent results from a regular, well-performed fat transfer-specifically, one in which the fat is appropriately harvested, cleaned and transferred by the physician with precision and artistry. Fat is basically serving as a filler, but one that is extraordinary. Extraordinary because it is not only permanent but is actually living as well-consequently it can grow or shrink depending if the patient gains or loses weight, respectively.
Stem cell science is in its infancy and we have much to learn. Indeed, many stem cell scientists now believe that the byproducts of stem cells (cytokines, etc) play a far more important role in healing than the actual stem cells themselves.Fat is a rich source of stem cells but to assume that the stem cells, when transplanted into the face, can miraculously know how to uniquely reverse aging is pipe-dreaming at best.
There was an interesting article today in the LA Times. It was focusing about a new trend to offer so-called stem-cell enriched facial rejuvenation procedures. While there is an obvious knee-jerk, almost giddy appeal to such a sexy newsworthy procedure, there is also a more scientific and sober take on the subject.
Before I begin, one must first understand that these stem-cell facelifts are basically high-priced fat transfers that are supposedly enriched with stem cells. They are branded under many different names such as Stem Cell Facelift®, FAMI, Naturalfill® , Celution, etc. Experienced fat grafting surgeons have long known that successful fat grafting is highly dependent on the techniques used for extracting, processing, and reinjecting the fat cells. Surgeons are beginning to understand that fat processing techniques which result in high concentrations of adult stem cells produce not only long lasting results, but also have therapeutic results in injured tissues. However, it is already well accepted that properly performed fat transfers already come replete with stem cells.
I have been performing fat transfers for over 15 years and know that the results are often spectacular and permanent, recreating youth not only in terms of facial contour but also in terms of skin quality. I realize that stem cells are a normal component of the fat-mix that I or any other experienced plastic surgeon transfers and success basically relies upon the surgeon’s technique and artistry. Those that claim they have the magic-mix or snake elixir because they utilize stem cells in their fat transfer are essentially taking credit for the sky being blue. Their claims of superior results are currently unsupported and amount to nothing more that marketing- a way to get more patients in the door and charge higher prices. It is also important to know what these practitioners are comparing their so-called superior results to- facelifts, fat transfer, Restylane or a healthy diet?
My concern with the “stem cell facelift” is not that it’s a bad procedure, but rather that this is not the most accurate description. Some doctors even feel that calling fat grafting a “stem cell facelift” is misleading. When seeking treatment, make sure that your surgeon relies on science, experience, and skill rather than catchy marketing phrases.