There are not a lot of other topics in the world of aesthetic and cosmetic medicine that generate the same level of controversy that stem cells can. And while some of this is fading as the sourcing of stem cells becomes less difficult and more alternatives have become available, there are still some people out there who are less than comfortable with the technology.
Bio-ethics aside, the medical uses for stem cells have dramatically increased in the past few years and there are a lot of very exciting therapies being developed that utilize the power of stem cells. At TSLMS, we are staying abreast of those and working to bring you information and news on how they impact the aesthetic, cosmetic, and plastic surgical fields. Here, we will go through the basics. We will cover what stem cells are, what some of their medical uses are, and why they are controversial.
Stem Cells: What Are They?
While the specific definition will change a little bit depending on the source, the basic definition of these special human cells remains the same; they are cells that have the potential to develop into almost any other type of cell. As noted by The University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia:
Stem cells are special human cells that are able to develop into many different cell types. This can range from muscle cells to brain cells. In some cases, they can also fix damaged tissues. Researchers believe that stem cell-based therapies may one day be used to treat serious illnesses such as paralysis and Alzheimer disease.
Stem cells are divided into 2 main forms. They are embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells. The embryonic stem cells used in research today come from unused embryos. These result from an in vitro fertilization procedure. They are donated to science. These embryonic stem cells are pluripotent. This means that they can turn into more than one type of cell.
Adult stem cells. There are 2 types of adult stem cells. One type comes from fully developed tissues such as the brain, skin, and bone marrow. There are only small numbers of stem cells in these tissues. They are more likely to generate only certain types of cells. For example, a stem cell that comes from the liver will only make more liver cells. The second type is induced pluripotent stem cells. These are adult stem cells that have been changed in a lab to be more like embryonic stem cells. Scientists first reported that human stem cells could be changed in this way in 2006. Induced pluripotent stem cells don’t seem to be different from embryonic stem cells, but scientists have not yet found one that can develop every kind of cell and tissue.
Medical Uses for Stem Cells
Nature Reports is a peer review journal of all things nature. It is not the usual suspects for sources of information on medical questions. However, in the case of stem cells it published an excellent early article on the topic (in 2007). At the time, the journal proposed that embryonic stem cells were going to be mean the greatest advances that the medical world had seen in quite some time. “Stem cells could help medicine in three general ways: cell-based therapies, drug discovery and basic knowledge. Cell therapies would use stem cells, or cells grown from stem cells, to replace or rejuvenate damaged tissue. Scientists also want to use stem cells to understand disease and find drugs that might treat it.” Granted, at the time, they were only suppositioning about embryonic stem cells when there had not been a single clinical trial using the cells on humans. However, a mere dozen years later their predictions have definitely come true.
Today stem cells are being used as therapy and are in the experimental stage for everything from cancer treatment to aesthetics. It seems that as scientists and doctors unlock their mysteries and apply them in new and unique ways, they in fact do have the very real potential to help cure many diseases and might hold the key to turning back the clock on our biological systems, slowing down, or at least reducing the impacts of aging.
BioInformant is a publisher of stem cell news. In late 2018 they published a piece that looks at the use and future of stem cells in cosmetic medicine. They point out that while the procedures for using stem cells in this field are different than those used to repair joints or cure cancer, the outcomes are just as promising:
While stem cell research is still in its early stages, stem cells are increasingly being incorporated into both cosmetic and medical applications. In both types of procedures, physicians extract fat through a liposuction procedure, because fat tissue is rich in stem cells. The fat is then processed to separate the stem cells from adipose (fat) cells. The two procedures differ in the us after the stem cells are harvested. In medical procedures, stem cells are injected as treatments (in joints, for example) or given intravenously (IV). However, in cosmetic procedures, stem cells are used to improve skin health and or augment other anti-aging aspects. In some situations, stem cells may be sourced from other tissues than fat, including bone marrow, peripheral blood, dental pulp, or umbilical cord blood or tissue.
They point out that uses for stem cells include:
- Stem Cells for Liposuction Procedures
- Stem Cells for Abdominoplasty
- Stem Cells for Natural Breast Augmentation
- Stem Cells for Butt Lift
- Stem Cells for Carbon Dioxide Laser Treatment
- Stem Cells for Facial Fat Transfer
- Stem Cell Facelift
Stem Cell Controversial
Embryonic stem cells are controversial, as by very definition the cells must be harvested from an embryo or fetal materials. This makes some people squeamish and others outright appalled. Luckily for the sake of medicine, the scientific world has figured out how to use adult stem cells to great advantage, as noted by ScienceDaily.com:
Adult stem cells, similar to embryonic stem cells, have the ability to differentiate into more than one cell type, but unlike embryonic stem cells they are often restricted to certain lineages. The ability of a stem cell of one lineage to become another lineage is called transdifferentiation. Different types of adult stem cells are capable of transdifferentiation more than others, and for many there is no evidence of its occurrence. Consequently, adult stem therapies require a stem cell source of the specific lineage needed and harvesting and or culturing them up to the numbers required is a challenge. Adult stem cell treatments have been used for many years to treat successfully leukemia and related bone/blood cancers through bone marrow transplants.
There is little to no controversy in using those.