Stem cells have captured our collective attention, and many patients are holding out hope that these cells will be harnessed to reverse aging and even treat some devastating diseases, but a group of plastic surgeons caution that stem cell claims are running far ahead of the evidence.
The new report, which appears in the August issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery®, focuses mainly on “worrying advertisements” claiming benefits of stem cell procedures for facelifts, breast augmentation, and vaginal rejuvenation. “With plastic surgeons at the forefront of stem cell-based regenerative medicine, it is critically important that we provide an example of a rigorous approach to research, data collection, and advertising of stem cell therapies,” write study authors led by Michael T. Longaker, MD, the Deane P. and Louise Mitchell Professor in the School of Medicine and Professor, by courtesy, of Bioengineering and of Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University Medical Center in Stanford, Calif.
Longaker and coauthors performed a Google search for cosmetic stem cell treatments, the most common being “stem cell facelifts.” Most procedures used “stem cells” isolated from fat. However, the websites provided little information on the quality of the stem cells used.
Without advanced cell-sorting procedures, these products likely contain many other types of cells besides fat-derived stem cells, the study authors point out. Many clinics also offered plasma-rich platelet protein treatments, which were inaccurately billed as stem cell therapy.
“Stem cells offer tremendous potential for cosmetic applications, but we must be vigilant to avoid unscientific claims which may threaten this nascent field.” — Michael T. Longaker, MD
The authors note that procedures marketed as “stem cell facelifts” are often just “lipofilling” procedures. To date, only one stem cell-based cosmetic procedure has received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration — LAVIV, which is now undergoing extensive post-approval surveillance.
Bigger Than Plastics
“Stem cells offer tremendous potential for cosmetic applications, but we must be vigilant to avoid unscientific claims which may threaten this nascent field,” Longaker writes.
“Plastic surgeons are the ones who are harvesting fat and cells within fat so we should take the lead when it comes to what we can do safely, whether or not the cells work and perform their functions predictably based on trials and rigorous peer-reviwed data,” he tells PSP. “That is what we should be promoting.”
Another overarching concern is the rise of stem cell clinics all over the world where various types of doctors are using “stem cells” to treat conditions that they were not specifically trained to treat, such as Parkinson’s disease. “The marketplace is saturated with unsubstantiated and sometimes fraudulent claims that may place patients at risk,” Longaker writes.
“It is the responsibility of our specialty to collect rigorous efficacy data to justify these treatments. If we do not make the field credible with good data, it will quickly become incredible.” — J. Peter Rubin, MD
J. Peter Rubin, MD, the Chair of the department of Plastic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, reviewed the new report for PSP magazine. He said that the onus does fall on plastic surgeons to move this field forward in a responsible fashion.
“Stem cell technology, while promising for a variety of disorders, has been applied to aesthetic medicine and is often marketed without substantial clinical evidence to support claims made,” he says. “It is the responsibility of our specialty to collect rigorous efficacy data to justify these treatments. If we do not make the field credible with good data, it will quickly become incredible.”