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Fat Transfer and Stem Cells

5 December 2018
fat cell option image

Autologous Fat Transfer has become a well-established plastic surgical procedure used to increase volume in areas such as the face and breasts.  It can also be used to raise indented scars.

While it is known that the fat cells are surrounded by numerous stem cells, there is no evidence that adding stem cells in any way improves the result.

A recent article in The Australian (November 16, 2018) is critical of the many headlines touting “stem cell miracle”.

The article points out that, while stem cells have lifesaving potential in a narrow set of diseases, and while there are currently a number of trials to assess their efficacy for many other conditions, stem cell therapy has not yet passed the rigorous process of trials to ensure their safety and efficacy.

The article states that, around the world and including in Australia, private clinics are offering unproven treatments to patients which exposes them to the risk of infection, bleeding and other adverse events as well as charging large sums for unproven treatments.

Some clinics inject fat cells into the blood stream expecting that the stem cells will somehow magically cure a painful joint or fix arthritis or dementia.  These treatments are expensive, dangerous and their effects unproven.

All stem cell treatments are now regulated in Australia by The Therapeutic Goods Administration as well as The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

So it is important to realise that when an autologous fat grafting procedure is performed to increase the volume of a tissue, no claims are made regarding the possible role of stem cells in this particular therapy.

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are tiny cells that have not yet differentiated into any particular tissue.  They have the capacity to renew and differentiate into other cell types thereby forming tissues.

Embryonic stem cells refer to cells that come from embryos.  They multiply and can develop into any cell type.

Adult (or somatic) stem cells are present in most organs (especially in fat) and typically are involved in repair as they differentiate into the cell type specific to that particular organ or tissue.