Stem Cell Rejuvenation: Biggest Claim of the Year
A. Foley on 16 Dec 2010 at 12:01am
Stem cells in aesthetics became officially the most hyped claim of 2010 when Wired Magazine ran the story, All Natural: Why Breasts are the Key to the Future of Regenerative Medicine. While the article speaks to the future promise of stem cells for breast augmentation, enterprising doctors are already aggressively selling stem cells as a viable alternative to procedures like facelift surgery.
Doctors advocating "stem cell rejuvenation" have made numerous claims including:
"We are seeing amazing improvements in skin texture because there is greater regeneration of skin and tissue"
"Stem Cell facelift represents a process whereby the hidden genetic potential of adult stem cells is awakened"
" 'Stem Cell Growth Factors' induce the skin and fatty layers to produce more of their own cells. The Factors stimulate or initiate 'a signal' to both the local stem cells within the skin and fat as well as the transplanted adult stem cells from the lower abdomen to multiply and restore themselves."
We spoke to Dr. Jeffrey Kenkel, a nationally recognized plastic surgeon practicing at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center about stem cells, and the marketing of this technology to consumers.
"These types of claims are very misleading to patients and are not backed by any scientific data. We are all excited about the great potential that stem cells may have in the future of many different medical fields, including cosmetic surgery," states Dr. Kenkel.
He adds that in addition to having a poor understanding of how stem cells are activated and directed to their desired effect, doctors may unintentionally exacerbate problems like the spread of cancer in the breast. "We can’t be certain that once injected, they may not make another type of unwanted tissue or replicate uncontrollably. 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 US FDA has yet to weigh-in on stem cells and the claims device makers have related to isolating stem cells. Doctors are either using machinery in an “off label” manner or merely stating they are injecting “stem cells” with their fat injections. Dr. Kenkel warns that "patients should use caution when interpreting these unsubstantiated claims as they are not only misleading ( as they lack scientific merit) but also set up unrealistic expectations for our patients."
Dr. Kenkel and many of his colleagues remain optimistic that the next 10 to 20 years will bring a plethora of data describing how how stem cell procedures have been either validated or refuted. "Until then we need to be realistic, question claims and proceed with extreme caution when it comes to 'stem cell rejuvenation', points out Kenkel.
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Photo credit: Courtesy of Dr. Christian Drehsen