The promise of stem cell treatments may bring about new cures and improvements in health during our lifetime. As researchers expand our knowledge in this field, properly done clinical studies will decide how and when we should use stem cells in clinical practice. Since adult stem cells are found in fat (and can be removed for use by liposuction), plastic surgeons have been among those interested in their regenerative potential.

While the use of fat derived stem cells for improving the results of plastic surgery procedures sounds appealing, there is little evidence at this time that using stem cells offers any benefit for patients. Unfortunately, some physicians have been marketing various stem cell treatments without any proof that they work.

In response to these unsupported claims, and to provide guidance for patients, both the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, formed a task force to review the evidence on stem cell use in aesthetic and reconstructive plastic surgery, including cosmetic procedures. Dr. Gutowski was a member of this task force and participated in formulating the summary which is reprinted below:

ASAPS and ASPS Issue Joint Position Statement on Stem Cells and Fat Grafting

A joint task force of the two leading plastic surgery associations, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), today released a position statement on the use of stem cells in aesthetic surgery during The Aesthetic Meeting 2011, the annual meeting of ASAPS. Based on a systematic review of the peer-reviewed literature, the task force concluded that while there is tremendous potential for the future use of stem cells in aesthetic surgical procedures, the scientific evidence and other data are very limited in terms of assessing the safety or efficacy of stem cell therapies in aesthetic medicine. The task force, was convened to address the growing concerns emerging from the plastic surgery community over advertising claims and clinical practices using stem cells that have not been substantiated by scientific evidence.

“There are encouraging data from laboratory and clinical studies to suggest that the use of adult stem cells is a very promising field,” said Dr. Rubin, “but as our comprehensive review of the current scientific literature shows, the data available today do not substantiate the marketing claims being made to patients seeking aesthetic surgery and aesthetic medical treatments.”

Based on the current state of knowledge, the task force made the following recommendations to ASAPS/ASPS members and their patients:

  • Terms such as “stem cell therapy” or “stem cell procedure” should be reserved to describe those treatments or techniques where the collection, concentration, manipulation, and therapeutic action of the stem cells is the primary goal, rather than a passive result, of the treatment. For example, standard fat grafting procedures that do transfer some stem cells naturally present within the tissue should be described as fat grafting procedures, not stem cell procedures.
  • The marketing and promotion of stem cell procedures in aesthetic surgery is not adequately supported by clinical evidence at this time.
  • While stem cell therapies have the potential to be beneficial for a variety of medical applications, a substantial body of clinical data to assess plastic surgery applications still needs to be collected. Until further evidence is available, stem cell therapies in aesthetic and reconstructive surgery should be conducted within clinical studies under Institutional Review Board approval, including compliance with all guidelines for human medical studies.
  • The collection and reporting of data on outcomes and safety by any physician performing stem cell therapies is strongly encouraged in order to advance the knowledge and science of stem cells.
  • Stem cell based procedures should be performed in compliance with FDA regulatory guidelines. If devices are employed that are subject to regulation by the FDA, surgeons should use these devices with appropriate approval in place, especially when used for investigational purposes.
  • Patients are advised to seek consultation for aesthetic procedures by a surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. These physicians are able to properly evaluate a patient’s concerns and offer a wide range of safe solutions. Extreme caution should be exercised when a physician is promising results from any treatment that sound too good to be true.

“While we remain enthusiastic about the future potential of stem cell therapies in aesthetic surgical procedures, unsubstantiated claims for such therapies will harm patients and tarnish the reputation of the industry,” said Felmont F. Eaves III, MD, ASAPS President. “This joint position statement will provide guidance for our members, the public and the media.”

“This systematic review brings into sharp focus the fact that the marketing for stem cell therapies in aesthetic surgery is pushing far ahead of the current science,” added Phil Haeck, MD, ASPS President. “Understandably, there is considerable public enthusiasm over the potential for stem cell treatments in plastic surgery. However, we need to keep our patients’ best interests in mind, which means being committed to supporting evidence-based medicine, not unsubstantiated claims. We eagerly await the evidence showing that stem cells treatments are safe and effective in this field.”