Japanese doctors, for the first time in the world, have used stem cells from liposuctioned fat to fix breast defects in women who had cancerous lumps removed from breasts. It may also be a way to augment healthy breasts without using artificial implants, potentially a dream come true for millions of women worldwide.
It has only been tested on about two dozen women in a study in Japan. However Doctors in the United States are enthusiastic and say that it has great potential.
“This is a pretty exciting topic right now in plastic surgery,” said Dr. Karol Gutowski of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “There are people all over the country working on this.”
The Japanese study was reported Saturday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. The company that developed the treatment, San Diego-based Cytori Therapeutics, plans larger studies in Europe and Japan next year.
More than 100,000 women have lumps removed each year in the United States alone. These operations, almost euphemistically called lumpectomies, often are done instead of mastectomies, which take the whole breast. But they often leave deformities because as much as a third of a woman’s breast may be removed.
The implants sold today are for reconstructing breasts after mastectomies. They aren’t designed to fix odd-shaped deformities from lumpectomies or radiation.
“Each one is so different, there’s no little thing you can just pop in there,” Gutowski explained. I couldn’t have said it better.
Mini implants of fat tissue have been previously tried, but they often get resorbed by the body or die and turn hard and lumpy. The recent discovery that fat cells are rich in stem cells renewed interest in their use.
In the Japanese study, doctors liposuctioned fat from 21 breast cancer patients’ tummies, hips or thighs. Half was reserved as the main implant material; the rest was processed to extract stem cells and combined with the reserved fat. This was injected in three places around a breast defect.
Doctors think the stem cells will keep the tissue from dying and form lasting mini implants.
Eight months after treatment, “about 80 percent of the patients are satisfied” with the results, said the lead researcher, Dr. Keizo Sugimachi of Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan.
There was a statistically significant improvement in breast tissue thickness at one and six months after treatment.
The treatment is expected to cost $3,000 to $5,000, said Cytori’s president, Dr. Mark Hedrick. The company sees potential for cosmetic breast augmentation of healthy breasts, but for now “our plan is to focus on an unmet medical need” in cancer patients, he said.
“It’s got great potential not only for breast but other cosmetic and reconstructive purposes,” like filling in facial defects from cancer or trauma, Gutowski said. “Imagine the aging face.”
Using lipsuctioned fat for reconstruction can herald a new age in not just lumpectomy but all beauty related treatment and surgeries.