mention stem cells, the first thing that generally comes to mind is embryonic
stem cells and the fairly new trend of storing umbilical cords in case there is
a need to for stem cell therapy in the future.
What isn’t generally known,
however, is that it is possible to retrieve stem cells from fat – by way of
liposuction – which can then be washed and cleaned and the stem cells are used
for tissue regeneration and to improve healing after a surgery.
What are stem cells?
are able to differentiate into specialised cell types. In other words, when a
stem cell divides, the new cell could remain as a stem cell or it could become
another type of cell that has a specialised function, such as a red blood cell
or even a brain cell. Stem cell therapies fall under the term regenerative
medicine, and is also referred to as cell based therapies. Stem cells are
usually derived from two main sources: embryonic stem cells and adult stem
Read: New hope from stem cells
What are fat enriched stem cells?
cells are usually extracted from bone marrow
(BMSC’s), which is an extremely painful process and only yields a small amount
of usable stem cells. However, it is now known that fat tissue
is an extremely rich source of adipose derived
stem cells, or ADSCs. In fact, it was discovered that fat cells yields more
ADSC’s than bone marrow and with more than 90% cell viability. In addition, the stem cells retrieved from fat cells are more
easily cultured and grow more rapidly than those harvested from bone marrow.
What are the advantages of fat enriched stem cells?
The biggest advantage is that fat is readily available
in almost all individuals and is easily obtained through a liposuction
procedure. There is therefore no need to find a "donor" – the fat cells removed
from a patient are used only for that specific patient. Fat is removed from the patient’s body through
liposuction, half of which is used to extract stem and regenerative cells
from the tissue, while the rest of the fat is washed to remove impurities and
prepared for the transplant. The concentrated regenerative cells are mixed with
the clean fat to form a fat-enriched graft – this method gives the stem cells a
better chance of survival, and thus the regeneration and healing of the
transplant is much faster.
Read: Organ transplant statistics
How is this process
being used in South Africa?
While this procedure is commonly performed in Europe
and Asia, it is not commonly performed in South Africa due to the high costs of
equipment and consumables needed to perform the procedure.
plastic surgeons have been doing liposuction and fat grafting for many years,
they are at the forefront of this technique. Professor Frank Graewe, plastic,
reconstructive and micro-surgeon, says, “I have used this technique extensively
in breast reconstruction, especially in patients with damaged tissue due to
radiation. I have also used this procedure to promote healing and regeneration
in wounds that have difficulty completely healing.”
Using fat enriched stem cells can also be used in cosmetic procedures to treat ageing
hands or face as fat stem cells have been shown to increase elastic fibres in
the skin. It can also be used to regenerate tissue in
hip and knee joints to assist with osteoarthritis symptoms.
Read: Protect ageing skin
What the future holds
There are many other potential uses for this
technique. Internationally there are clinics that have been formed that
specialise in regenerative medicine using fat stem cells to treat orthopaedic conditions, neurological diseases, autoimmune
diseases and even heart conditions.
“I have had patients from all over South
Africa, investigating the option of using fat enriched stem cell therapy as a
treatment option. So we are seeing the demand and we’re excited to be at the
fore of these developments going forward,” concludes Graewe. It’s been proven that the use of fat is safe,
efficient and cost effective for regenerative therapies and the application
possibilities are endless.
Stem cell, hard sell
Stem cell glossary
SA stem cell bank accredited
Who is Professor Graewe?
In 2014 Professor Frank
Graewe was a member of the team that performed the world’s first
successful penile transplant. He was responsible for all the
microsurgery during the harvesting as well as the re-attachment. Prof Graewe is currently Head of
the Plastic Surgery Division at Stellenbosch University as well as the Head
of the Craniofacial Unit at Tygerberg Academic Hospital.