In 2019’s current health and beauty focused climate, people are on a quest to fight the signs of aging (or prevent it altogether) and many have begun looking for alternative ways to roll back the clock. With advancements in stem cell and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, more people are ditching standard procedures like facelifts for newer, regenerative treatments to reverse aging starting at the cellular level. Even athletes are seeing the effects of stem cell therapy to heal injuries and stimulate growth factors. But are these treatments really worth the cost? Are they effective enough to ditch your Botox? Board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Sean Kelishadi discusses new cell-based treatments, traditional fillers and fat transfers to tell us which might be right for you.
How do stem cells work, what is stem cell therapy and how are people using it in the cosmetics field now?
First, we should distinguish the difference between adult and embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are derived from an embryo and can become all types of cells within the body. They don’t have a specific function other than to be a manufacturing plant to create other types of cells. As we develop into a child these cells become more specific, called adult stem cells or multipotent stem cells. We have many of these cells as youth, but slowly, over time, lose them as we age. Because of this, we take longer to recover from a sports injury or a wound as quickly. Several years ago, it seemed like there was no way to turn the clock back, until now. Recent research has discovered methods in which we can turn these cells back on or take them from one part of the body and place them in another. We are currently able to take blood and prepare it in a way to concentrate the platelets and white blood cells to turn these cells on for a while to reverse or slow aging or speed up the healing cascade. There are also methods of taking your fat, which was recently discovered as a storehouse for adult stem cells, like bone marrow, where we can transfer prepared fat to other parts of the body, like the face, to slow or reverse the aging of the skin and restore lost volume.
Is it possible to isolate the functionality of what you want those stem cells to do? For example, using them to repair sun damage, is it possible to isolate their functions for a specific purpose in the body?
The scientific evidence being published of late has shown we can take adult stem cells and cause them to form certain types of cells. For instance, adult stem cells from your fat can be grown into bone, cartilage, muscle and skin. This is all groundbreaking for the field of reconstructive surgery. For example, our cancer patients would get mastectomies and have their whole breast tissue removed and have implant reconstruction. They would just have a bag of skin over an implant, which would look unnatural as there’s really no fat and all you could see were the ripples and the deformities from the implant. Some surgeons really thought ahead and decided to take some fat from the patient and put fat where these ripples were to lessen the appearance of the deformity. They also noticed that by doing this, the patients recovered faster from the procedure.
In contrast, there were some doctors and scientists that thought we shouldn’t inject fat in the breasts of breast cancer patients because the stem cells in the fat could potentially enable breast cancer to develop again. It was kind of taboo to talk about this for a while. Fortunately, recent clinical studies have proven otherwise. What they also discovered is that with fat transfer on breast cancer patients with radiation damage, the damaged skin would also become soft and get better largely due to the stem cells found in fat. Just picture people who had radiated skin that looked like leather, and it healed. They realized there was a serious correlation between fat transfers and inadvertent repair and reproduction of healthy cells via innate stem cells in the fat. That’s where a lot of my interest started in this research.