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Beware of Pitches for Stem Cells in Cosmetic Surgery
'Unsubstantiated, sometimes fraudulent claims' for cosmetic procedures using stem cells, says Review in Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery

PHILADELPHIA — Advertising claims for cosmetic procedures using stem cells are running far ahead of the scientific evidence for safety and effectiveness, according to a review in the August issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery®, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

"Stem cells offer tremendous potential, but the marketplace is saturated with unsubstantiated and sometimes fraudulent claims that may place patients at risk," write Dr Michael T. Longaker of Stanford University Medical Center and colleagues.

'Worrying advertisements' for cosmetic stem cell procedures

Dr Longaker and coauthors raise concerns about the unregulated use of stem cells for unproven indications—including cosmetic procedures.

While stem cell therapy "remains in its infancy," they write, "there are a growing number of cosmetic practitioners that are advertising minimally invasive, stem cell-based rejuvenation procedures."

The article was prompted by "worrying advertisements" claiming benefits of stem cell procedures for facelifts, breast augmentation—even "stem cell vaginal rejuvenation." These ads claim benefits from procedures that have not undergone rigorous scientific evaluation—including potential risks related to stem cell and tissue processing and the effects of aging on stem cells.

To gain insight into these claims, Dr Longaker and coauthors performed a Google search for cosmetic stem cell treatments, the most common of which was "stem cell facelifts." Most procedures used "stem cells" isolated from fat. However, the websites provided little information on the quality of the stem cells used.

Without advanced cell-sorting procedures, these products used in these procedures likely contain many other types of cells besides fat-derived stem cells. Many clinics also offered plasma-rich platelet protein treatments, which they inaccurately marketed as stem cell therapy.

Despite evidence that is "minimal at best," advertisers are also claiming that their stem cell treatments have "anti-aging effects." The authors note that procedures marketed as "stem cell facelifts" are often just "lipofilling" procedures—an established fat injection technique with no prolonged anti-aging effect.

Call for plastic surgery to lead in evaluating cosmetic uses of stem cells

To date, just one stem cell procedure for cosmetic purpose has received FDA approval, after extensive evaluation. That product, designed to treat fine facial wrinkles, is undergoing extensive post-approval surveillance. Of more than 100 clinical trials being performed to evaluate fat-derived stem cells, only a handful are focusing on cosmetic treatments.

Stem cells certainly have a role to play in regenerative medicine and cosmetic surgery. The authors note that the ASPS and other specialty groups have formed task forces to develop position statements based on the best available data for procedures using fat-derived stem cells.

"With plastic surgeons at the forefront of stem cell-based regenerative medicine, it is critically important that we provide an example of a rigorous approach to research, data collection, and advertising of stem cell therapies," Dr Longaker and coauthors conclude. "Stem cells offer tremendous potential for cosmetic applications, but we must be vigilant to avoid unscientific claims which may threaten this nascent field."

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

About Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

For more than 70 years, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery® has been the one consistently excellent reference for every specialist who uses plastic surgery techniques or works in conjunction with a plastic surgeon. The official journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery® brings subscribers up-to-the-minute reports on the latest techniques and follow-up for all areas of plastic and reconstructive surgery, including breast reconstruction, experimental studies, maxillofacial reconstruction, hand and microsurgery, burn repair, and cosmetic surgery, as well as news on medico-legal issues.

About ASPS

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) is the world's largest organization of board-certified plastic surgeons. Representing more than 7,000 Member Surgeons, the Society is recognized as a leading authority and information source on aesthetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. ASPS comprises more than 94 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States. Founded in 1931, the Society represents physicians certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery or The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. ASPS advances quality care to plastic surgery patients by encouraging high standards of training, ethics, physician practice and research in plastic surgery. 

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