More MS news articles for May 2002

Liposuction a novel source of stem cells

New firm extracts stem cells from suctioned fat, stores them for future

May 9, 2002
By Julia Sommerfeld
People undergoing liposuction are probably hoping to never again see that reviled fat on their belly, thighs and bottom. But a new company is urging cosmetic surgeons and patients to think again before throwing it away. It turns out those saddle bags are a mother lode of stem cells, so StemSource Inc. is offering liposuction patients the option of harvesting these valuable cells and banking them for potential medical use in the future.

Researchers who last year first demonstrated that human fat contains adult stem cells — unprogrammed master cells that can be transformed into other types of tissue — recently founded StemSource, a Thousand Oaks, Calif., based company that collects and stores stem cells from liposuction fat.

“Fat tissue is the most clinically relevant source of adult stem cells,” said Dr. Marc Hedrick, co-founder and president of StemSource, pointing out that they were able to extract 100 times as many adult stem cells from fat than from bone marrow, currently their primary source.

Later on, when stem cell science advances, patients will have a personal supply of the cells for making body replacement parts, he said.

Dr. Diane Krause, a stem cell expert and associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at Yale University School of Medicine said, “It’s not altogether a crazy idea. People who are willing to pay for liposuction may have some extra money laying around. These cells might be functional some day so it’s not entirely wasteful to save them,” she said.

Krause’s own research in mice has found that adult stem cells in bone marrow can turn into a variety of other tissue types.

In research presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in Las Vegas, Dr. Peter Fodor, chair of StemSource’s clinical advisory board, and colleagues extracted stem cells from the liposuctioned fat of 10 patients and transformed them in a test tube into five different types of cells: bone, cartilage, muscle, nerve and additional fat cells.

But Dr. Curt Civin, professor of oncology and pediatrics at Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University, warned that this isn’t ready for prime time yet.

“The use of stem cells from fat is possible but it’s probably pretty far into the future,” he said. “It’s very different to grow a few cells than a bone or a perfectly formed knee tendon or cartilage.”

Plus, Civin said it’s not clear how long these frozen cells will remain viable. “I don’t see the advantage of freezing stem cells now — unless you are an incredible exerciser you will always have fat so why not wait till you need them?”

Elizabeth Scarbrough, executive vice president of sales and marketing for StemSource, acknowledges that as of yet there are no clinical applications for these cells.

“For today what we’re offering patients is a chance to save what’s been proven to be very valuable tissue instead of discarding it,” she said. “But it’s a matter of when — not if — these applications are going to be available.”

Fodor, who is also chief of plastic surgery at Century City Hospital, agreed, adding that someday in the near future, he envisions being able to use these stem cells to grow new cartilage for someone’s knee, restore muscle lost in a cancer operation, replace damaged or missing bone and repair damaged heart muscle.

He also imagines cosmetic procedures of the future in which the stem cells could used — perhaps to enrich fat for filling in divots after a disfiguring surgery, to grow breast tissue for augmentation, to create bone for a chin implant or cartilage for a nose reconstruction.

Using adult stem cells collected from a patient’s own body would eliminate the risk of tissue rejection as well as avoid the ethical controversy over working with embryonic stem cells, Fodor noted.


The price tag, which ranges from about $1,500 to $2,000 — on top of the $3,000 to $6,000 cost of liposuction — covers the harvesting and the first five years of storage in a liquid nitrogen freezer.

But, Scarbrough added, if patients agree to donate 10 percent of their stem cell load for research, the company will extend the storage period to 10 years. Beyond those initial years, the storage fee is $100 a year.

So far, 15 to 20 patients have banked their cells with StemSource, she said. But the company expects a surge in numbers soon: The ASAPS meeting last week was the unofficial launch of the service, with thousands of plastic surgeons introduced to the technology for the first time.

In addition to extracting stem cells, StemSource also harvests and stores collagen from fat, which could potentially be used for cosmetic injections. Fodor said they are currently setting up clinical trials for this use. He added that a colleague in Spain has already injected this fat-derived collagen into the face of an AIDS patient whose facial fat was wasting away, leaving him with a hollowed-out appearance in his cheeks. Four months later, the collagen is still filling out his face.


Sandy Calesa, a grandmother in Rancho Sante Fe, Calif., banked her stem cells after getting liposuction last month.

A fit woman with stubborn pockets of fat that she wanted removed from her hips, knees, thighs, arms and stomach as a 50th birthday present, Calesa was sent home with a brochure from StemSource after her initial consultation with Fodor.

“When I was first thinking of having liposuction, I thought it’s too bad they can’t do something useful with this fat besides throwing it away — like moving it somewhere else or something — so this made perfect sense,” Calesa said. “It’s the whole recycling idea: We recycle garbage and plastic cans and pay for that so why not pay for this.”

She paid $1,700 on top of the cost of her liposuction. She also signed up for the option to donate 10 percent of her stem cells for research.

“I don’t necessarily think the cells will help me in the future — that may be a long shot — but this may lead to something that helps people in the future, maybe my family,” she said.

© 2002, MSNBC