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How Stem Cells Improve Plastic Surgery

Researchers at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark may have found a brand new way to use stem cells: for reconstructive plastic surgery. Reconstructive surgery is done to improve a person’s appearance following infection or trauma, disease, tumor, cancer or a congenital defect. It is an area of plastic surgery that is considered medically necessary because it is not elective. This includes breast reconstruction for patients who have a mastectomy due to breast cancer. This new study looks at the higher success rates of using the patient’s stem cells for the surgery.

The Study

This Danish study was conducted by researchers at the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, which resulted in stem cells combined with injections of fat leading to a higher retention of volume in reconstructive procedures. The fat grafts were created for 10 participants in the study, each of which was going to get a reconstructive procedure. These fat grafts had some of the patient’s own stem cells and showed 81 percent of the initial volume of fat after 121 days, while the control group without stem cells had just 16 percent of the first volume.

Fat grafting is done by using the patient’s stem cells and their fat from another area of the body. Fat grafts are commonly used in reconstructive surgery to allow for a final appearance looking very much like their original appearance. The problem is that an average of 80 of the fat transferred doesn’t survive. Because of the high retention rate of the fat grafts with the patient’s stem cells, professors Kacey G. Marra and J. Peter Rubin of the University of Pittsburgh believe this data could change the way reconstructive surgery is performed, particularly following breast cancer or trauma.

For this study, fat tissue was collected from the abdomens of the patients with a liposuction technique, then enriched with their stem cells. This combination was injected into their arms. Not only was the retention of the fat grafts much higher with the stem cells included, but there was also significantly less dying of the body tissue, also called necrosis. With stem cells, only 4.6 percent had necrosis, compared to 16 percent of the control group.

So far, the results are only in their initial stages. There have not been side effects or adverse reactions so far in the clinical trials of patients using their own stem cells, but this hasn’t yet reached the long-term portion of the study. More data will be available by the researchers once their long-term follow-up is completed. Another thing researchers are not yet sure about is if higher concentration of the patient’s stem cells can help stimulate more growth in breast cancer cells. Further testing in the clinical trial still needs to be performed, though so far the results look very promising.