Our fat tissue contains a lot more than just fat. It’s been known for many years that the fat that makes our jeans tight and skin loose contains large numbers of small cells with the potential to grow into many types of the tissue and play a central role in healing and regeneration. Only recently though have doctors been able to apply these exciting laboratory findings to help patients in clinical practice.
A study underway by doctors at the Breast Preservation Foundation in Los Angeles exemplifies this new trend in clinical use of Adipose Derived Stem Cell. Women in the study are offered use of their own stem cells to regrow their breast marred by prior surgery and even radiation to treat breast cancer.
Treatment of breast cancer usually involves removal of the tumor itself along with all or part of the surrounding normal breast to ensure that a complete removal is accomplished. After the surgery, the breast is frequently treated with radiation which further shrinks the breast and turns the soft breast tissue to a hard, woody texture. For years, the only options available to reconstruct the breast were highly invasive flap procedures such as the lat dorsi or TRAM flaps or an implant. The flaps require a donor site scar and extended healing, and implants are associated with the problems of any large foreign body. They are especially problematic after radiation treatment.
Stem cell treatment has the advantage of producing a natural regrowth of fat tissue within the breast, giving it a soft, natural appearance and feel using the woman’s own fat stored in the abdomen, hips and thighs. The Los Angeles study uses fat harvested with liposuction from the hip, abdomen or thighs. The fat, usually 400 to 600 cc, is treated in a special biologic laboratory right in the operating room to isolate the tiny stem cells from the larger mature adipocyte (fat) cells and other components in the lipoaspirate (obtained during liposuction). The process takes about 1.5 hours while the patient remains in the operating room. The tedious process involves a complex series of washings and high-speed centrifugations but no additional chemicals or growth factors are added to change the biology or genetics of the cells.