The mainstream media loves to feature top stories about stem cells and has done for years. Embryonic stem cells spark controversy, adult stem cells are flouted as magical cells capable of fixing any problem… The information, hype, spin and science are jumbled together, leaving those out of the loop confused and uninformed.
More recently, stem cells have appeared as a marketing ploy for cosmetic procedures that promise magical rejuvenation that’s better than any other procedure available. Dr. Ashley Gordon of Austin and Dr. William P. Adams, Jr. of Dallas discuss the place of stem cells in plastic surgery, where the future’s going and how to process the media hype.
The Promise of Stem Cells
The heralds trumpet the coming of stem cells and their rejuvenating abilities that some liken to the fountain of youth. The “Stem Cell Facelift” aims to return your face back to where it used to be, while also rejuvenating the skin and structure of the face through stem cells. “I think stem cells could possibly be the next big thing,” admits Dr. Adams. “If properly researched, they have a place in what we do as plastic surgeons.”
Dr. Gordon agrees, but worries about the effects of hype and spin from the media. “When I hear stem cells, I want to cringe, even though I feel like I’m a scientist at heart. I think they can do so many wonderful things in all disciplines of medicine, but, unfortunately, people are taking this and spinning it as the “Stem Cell Facelift” or the “Vampire Face Lift”. It’s all marketing and not the science.”
Bringing Know-How to the Battle Against Dishonest Marketing
Stem cells are indeed highly capable cells that can drastically improve surrounding tissue, but the science still needs to be fully worked out in order to maximize the benefits. Unfortunately, marketers would rather not wait to sell the next big thing.
“The marketing and spin is a real problem,” says Adams. “But, if we aren’t innovative and we don’t embrace new developments, we’d still be driving Model T cars around. We’re on the forefront of developing things to benefit patients, and I do think that at some point stem cells are going to have a big impact on our speciality. In cardiac surgery, we know that there are high-level studies that show benefits. They’re a little farther along than we are in plastic surgery, but at some point stem cells will be important for our field, too. Right now we have to be cautious, the marketing is bogus and we have to inform patients that it’s probably not ready for primetime.”
Many practitioners will say that removing fat via liposuction is one way to obtain adult stem cells, which are then reinjected elsewhere on the body. While this acceptance of fact reaches even the most conservative of plastic surgeons, the amount of stem cells in fat and how they perform once injected is still up for debate. “We have to learn to isolate those cells and keep them, then inject appropriately for them to do all the magical things they can do,” says Gordon. “We can’t just suck cells out and stick them back in and expect it to work.”