Aging is an inescapable reality of human life. It results in degeneration of the skin and its support system and it involves both boney and soft tissue changes.
Aging is caused by 2 sets of factors:
1) Intrinsic; including time and genetics. Starting at birth and progressing to cause diminished skin elasticity, deflation of soft tissue volume and loss of bone and cartilage support.
2) Extrinsic or environmental; including UV light, smoking and chemical exposure.
Stem cells are big business, especially in cosmetic medicine, with many profit conscious practitioners horribly misleading the community with statements such as “stem cell lift is safer and more effective and requires less downtime than a traditional facelift”
So what are stem cells? And is it a miracle cure for aging?
The defining characteristic of stem cells are their unique ability to self-renew and differentiate along multiple lineage pathways, ie given the correct signals they can transform into any type of human tissue.
There are 2 types of stem cells:
- Embryonic stem cells
- Adult stem cells
Embryonic Stem cells have enormous therapeutic potential, yet are subject to significant ethical, moral, legal and political concerns.
On the other hand, the fewer restrictions placed on adult stem cells facilitate their use in clinical application.
Stem cells were first isolated from the bone marrow of mice in 1963 by the Ontario Cancer Institute. It wasn’t until 2002, researchers at UCLA isolated stem cells from fat cells.
As a result of the abundance of fat stores in humans, plus the extraction of fat (liposuction) being far less invasive than bone marrow aspiration. There has since been a boom in adipose (fat) derived stem cell research and an increase in the popularity of fat grafting with the hope of the stem cells in fat rejuvenating the area that is treated.
The reality is that although the proposed use for stem cells in tissue repair is impressive its use in facial rejuvenation is without any solid scientific data, just anecdotal claims. There is no evidence that stem cells have any anti-aging properties.
The stem cell enhanced facelift is nothing more than a procedure to increase facial fullness, which alone creates a more youthful look. This is due to the volume increase of the fat injection which smoothes wrinkles and restores volume to the face.
What is advertised and promoted as a new and original technique of stem-cell facelifting is most likely fat grafting (with its inherent stem cells). Fat grafting or lipofilling, is a well known and established technique of volumetric rejuvenation of the face. Soft tissue filling certainly addresses the boney and soft tissue volume loss in the aging face, but it cannot replace a facelift which addresses more than volumetric enhancement.
To claim that stem cell facelift is a complete non surgical facial rejuvenation procedure circumventing the need for surgery is unethical advertising.
Adult stem cells and their application in clinical and laboratory settings is a very promising field.
However, through my extensive research of the available scientific data the anti-aging benefits of stem cells is limited to improvements in photoaging and maybe skin tightening.
Stem cells advertised to replace a facelift is a gimmick and amounts to pure fiction.
The question that remains is whether stem cells actually contribute to any of the positive effects of fat grafting, or is it just the rejuvenating effects of transferring fat cells.