Most readers, at least in the Western World, are probably familiar with the liposuction procedure. Liposuction, sometimes referred to simply as “lipo,” is a procedure where excess fat is removed from certain areas of the body. There are several different variations of the technique: tumescent, ultrasound assisted, laser assisted and suction assisted; but the foundation of the treatments is always the same. A surgeon will make a small incision near the treatment area and insert a small tube to loosen, and ultimately suction out, unwanted fat.
While most people think of liposuction as just a way to help patients improve their physical appearance, the practice of using this treatment as a way to harvest stem cells is even more exciting.
Stem cells are the superheroes of cells. They can be used to generate an indefinite number of additional cells, or even grow other types of cells through a process of differentiation. Stem cells are already being used regularly in treatment plans for arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Finding stem cells isn’t difficult. They are present in the brain, bone marrow, blood vessels, skeletal muscle, skin, teeth, and in many organs. The difficulty lies in finding less invasive harvesting techniques. To harvest stem cells from bone marrow, for example, typically requires that a donor, under anesthesia, has a large needle inserted into the pelvic bone several times to extract bone marrow cells. This procedure not only comes with substantial risks like infection and bone fracture, but also significant discomfort in the donor’s hip and lower back, lasting for several days, and complicating simple tasks like sitting or climbing stairs.
These risks have driven researchers to investigate other viable means of harvesting stems cells. Fat cells, or ‘adipose’ cells as they are sometimes called, may provide the desired solution.
Dr. Eckhard Alt in Munich Germany was one of the first doctors to use stem cells derived primarily from adipose tissue in treatments. One of his many success stories is a man from the United States with severe wrist arthritis who suffered from constant pain, cysts and inflammation.
Bill Marlette, the patient, said he noticed results after just one treatment. He continued to receive treatments for the next 7 months with impressive results. MRI scans show the cysts completely gone, the bone restructured, no inflammation, and new cartilage that has begun to form.
Dr. Alt credits where the stem cells were harvested for the success of the treatment. Adipose derived cells have a strong tendency to turn into cells needed for cartilage, bone and connective tissue. Cells from bone marrow are much better at specializing as blood, muscle and brain cells.
Many of these treatments are still in the research phase. As trials progress through all of the FDA regulated channels, we see many promising signs for the future of liposuction and other stem cell treatments.