Is Fat in your Medicine Cabinet?
By Lisa Barr M.D.
Last month we introduced the concept of regenerative medicine as the use of the body’s own resources to promote real healing at a cellular level. This burgeoning “body eco- friendly” approach can be carried out using different adult stem cells and growth factors from different tissue (whole blood, fat, skin and bone). This month’s newsletter will focus on the use of fat derived stem cells or adipose-derived stem cells (ADSCs). Fatderived stem cells can be added to PRP (platelet rich plasma) when PRP alone does not adequately heal the condition or when there is the need for additional “tissue matrix.”
Fat derived stem cells are considered mesenchymal stem cells, found in a specific layer of fat called the stromal –vascular fraction (SVF). These stem cells are similar in some ways to bone marrow derived stem cells, but are easier to extract and are more abundant. What makes fat derived stem cells so interesting is that, in comparison to blood and bone, fat yields millions of stem cells per treatment. Furthermore, ADSCs can be induced in vitro (outside of the body) to differentiate into many different tissues including: osteoblasts (bone), chondroblasts (cartilage), myoblasts (muscle), and neurons (nerves), as well as others. Thus, the possibilities are endless as a cure for disease and injury. Needless to say, optimizing the use of these potent cells is the new frontier of medicine. Current restrictions enforced in the USA by the FDA limit any modification of stem cells to certain research facilities. In time, as more standardized protocols are developed, these restrictions should be loosened. It is still unclear how we will be able to best optimize stem cell function. Some studies suggest ADSCs are “locked in” to the fatty tissue and require enzymes to release the actual stem cell. In vivo (in the body) studies regarding optimal use of fat derived stem cells are in the early stages, but results look very promising.
As previously stated, fatty tissue serves as a reliable, accessible and abundant source of adult stem cells with the ability to develop along multiple pathways. Unlike bone marrow derived stem cells, fat provides a biomaterial scaffold, as well as specific growth factors that modulate inflammation, which can be used to repair and regenerate tissue. ADSCs can also stimulate the recruitment of stem cells to the site of injury and promote their differentiation along specific cell lines. It is also believed that ADSCs are “immunoprivileged” cells, providing the injured tissues with antioxidant chemicals and free radical scavengers. They also suppress immune reactions. Since fat (adipose) derived stem cells are stromal cells which are “ multipotent progenitor cells,” they are also believed to even help failing heart muscles. Current studies are underway worldwide using ADSCs in patients with heart damage after a heart attack to repair damaged myocardial tissue. One observation in these studies is that these cells contain VEGF, a growth factor that promotes the development of new blood vessels, which are crucial in carrying oxygenated blood to the injured tissue. Studies are also underway using fat derived stem cells in treatment for leukemia, spinal cord injury, stroke, liver damage and Alzheimer’s. With all of the amazing possibilities in sight, various medical centers are looking for standardized and streamlined approaches to extract the fat, process it and in some cases “bank the fat” for future use as people age.