Stem cell science took a giant leap forward when it was discovered that there are literally millions of stem cells lying in the collagen matrix of your fat sitting just under the skin and easily accessible by a simple outpatient liposuction procedure. The harvested fat is processed in the operating room into a mixture of cells called stromal vascular fraction (SVF).
SVF contains at least six different types of stem cells (all adult mesenchymal cells). These cells have excellent safety and efficacy records over the past few years and will not form tumors. The other types of stem cells such as embryonic and induced pluripotent cells have been associated with tumor formation. Only autologous cells (from one’s own body) are used to make SVF, so there is no risk of disease transmission or rejection.
Transferring tissues (“cell surgery”) from areas of the body that are rich in stem cells (fat) to areas of the body that have degeneration and disease (such as an arthritic joint or a spinal cord injury) gives clinicians a regenerative medicine option while we all wait for industry to create stem cell products such as FDA approved cultured cells available in a bottle on the shelf. We are still several years away from such remedies, thus cell surgery remains in great demand.
Stem cells generally lie dormant until they detect some level of tissue injury or disease. They go directly to the area of need to stimulate healing and subsequently activate, which means they change into the type(s) of injured tissue(s) needed for repair, and/or they may send out signals to induce repair by influencing cells with chemical messengers. This makes stem cells reparative for a wide variety of degenerative conditions.
Some physicians that treat mostly orthopedic conditions have promoted that adult stem cells from bone marrow may be useful as well; however, fat appears to be superior and most orthopedic conditions have a greater than 80 percent response rate to fat-derived cell treatments. Unlike mini-liposuction, bone marrow extraction is often painful, and yields low numbers of stem cells that are then cultured over several days into perhaps a few million cells. Adipose (fat) derived tissues (SVF) have high numbers of excellent quality cells that do not require culturing in a laboratory. Technology now exists to process fat into SVF on the same day obtaining as many as 10-40 million stem cells. Our Cell Surgical Network of 87 national and international clinics has done more than 4,000 SVF treatments using this technology with excellent safety data. The extensive data our network collects will be presented to the FDA in an effort to make stem cell-based therapies more mainstream. Perhaps someday these treatments will be covered by insurance; at this point, all treatments remain investigational.
Elliot B. Lander, MD, FACS and Mark H. Berman, MD, FACS are the founders and medical directors of The Cell Surgical Network®, medical directors of the California Stem Cell Treatment Center in Rancho Mirage and Beverly Hills, as well as authors and educators. For more information visit www.StemCellRevolution.com or call (800) 231.0407.