Will Stem Cells Give Women an Alternative to Breast Implants?

K. Mathews on 14 Oct 2011 at 9:00am

Stem cells are a hot topic in the medical community because of their potential in find a cure for disease such as cancer. More recently, they have also earned the focus of a growing number of cosmetic surgery professionals who view stem cells as a way to more naturally enhance a person's body.

We spoke to Dr. Leif Liu Rogers, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills who has been performing breast enhancements with stem cells for about four years. It's essentially fat grafting, with half of the cells (that are harvested from liposuction) being stem cells.

The advantages? According to Dr. Rogers:

  1. Breasts that look and feel natural. “Even a patient’s doctor would not be able to distinguish… on a breast exam.”
  2. Avoids having to put a foreign object into the body.
  3. Implants need to be replaced over time, while fat grafting does not.
  4. Significantly less scarring.

The main disadvantage cited is that it only allows a bust boost of 1, occasionally 2, cup sizes. It's also possible for some of the fat to be reabsorbed over time.

While the majority of breast augmentation procedures Dr. Rogers provides still utilize implants, he does nearly 200 of the stem cell variety per year. He also predicts that in due time, the stem cell approach will become the more popular option, particularly if subsequent research confirms the initial studies’ findings that these surgeries are safe.

A blog post from last year covered this topic, including an interview with Dallas plastic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Kenkel. Though he's optimistic about stem cells, he cautions against trusting the hype this early on in the research. "We can’t be certain that once injected, they may not make another type of unwanted tissue or replicate uncontrollably,” Dr. Kenkel said. “We don’t even know if the stem cells themselves contribute to the potential positive effects or simply the injection of fat cells and other products secreted by fat cells." 

The demand for a more natural alternative to cosmetic surgery is growing, but procedures like the stem cell boob job or facelift are still waiting FDA approval and greater clinical proof they are safe and effective.