Take Your Fat to the Bank

Deposit from liposuction remains can be source of stem cells later

TUESDAY, April 30, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- If you've had liposuction, don't throw your unwanted fat out. Doctors say you can tuck away that nip-and-tuck in case you need your own stem cells someday.

"It's like a blood bank," says Dr. Peter B. Fodor, co-author of a study to be presented tomorrow at the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery's annual meeting in Las Vegas.

"Before, we were collecting stem cells only for research purposes," adds Fodor, an associate professor of plastic surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles. "However, more recently we've been taking stem cells very specifically from patients with the idea that these stem cells will be isolated and then banked for those patients."

Typically, tissue and fat removed during a liposuction procedure is thrown out. Salvaged leftovers could be used for future medical procedures, including but not limited to plastic surgery.

"It's not unlike the concept of banking umbilical cords," says Farshid Guilak, director of orthopedic research at Duke University Medical Center. "It is an interesting concept to be able to bank a variety of tissues from the body and, hopefully in the future, we will be able to bank a variety of stem cells."

Scientists have been using discarded tissue from liposuction and knee-surgery procedures for years for purely research purposes. About a year ago, Guilak's lab at Duke and another research team at the University of California, Los Angeles, managed to turn human fat cells salvaged from liposuction procedures into functioning cartilage cells in mice. Earlier this year, the Duke researchers also transformed cells from the "fat pad" area behind the knee into functioning cartilage, bone, and fat cells.

This week's announcement doesn't represent any scientific breakthroughs, but it does pave the way for future innovations. For now, doctors can only collect the cells. In the future, if U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval is secured, a person who breaks a leg in a car accident, for instance, could use the banked stem cells to grow bone cells to replace or help heal the broken bone.

The system could have a number of advantages.

For one thing, it bypasses the charged ethical, political, and religious issues involved in taking stem cells from embryos. Also, stem cells that are banked don't age.

Liposuction also appears to have an especially bountiful and easy-to-access supply of stem cells.

"The only other source of adult stem cells so far is bone marrow, and bone marrow is very, very difficult to harvest and it yields only small amounts," Fodor says. Every 100 cubic centimeters of bone marrow yield only one to 10,000 stem cells, whereas the same amount of fatty tissue can produce 1 million stem cells.

The FDA currently prohibits doctors from using these banked cells, but physicians have had good results in Spain, where there are no such restrictions. One 45-year-old woman came to the doctor with a congenital disease that caused her to lose fatty tissue from certain areas of her body. Her hand, for instance, had become so bony it had lost function. Fat from another part of her body was mixed with stem cells, then injected. A few months later, her hand looked and functioned normally.

Another patient, this one with HIV, had lost a good deal of soft tissue from the face and appeared emaciated. Collagen manufactured from stem cells was injected and, four or five months later, the patient appeared normal.

One of the study authors, Dr. Marc Hedrick, has a financial interest in technology related to stem cells.

What To Do

Get more information on the future of stem cell research from the National Institutes of Health, which also has a primer on stem cells.

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery has more details on liposuction.

SOURCES: Peter B. Fodor, M.D., associate professor, plastic surgery, University of California, Los Angeles, and spokesman, American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; Farshid Guilak, Ph.D., director, Orthopedic Research, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.; May 1, 2002, presentation, American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery meeting, Las Vegas
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