Stem Cell Research: Cosmetic Surgery's Next Frontier?

When most people contemplate a cosmetic enhancement, they think about the way in which a synthetic implant will change their look. Very few ever wonder if that synthetic appendage can come from their own body tissue.

With the advent of stem cell research a question like 'Can I grow my own breast implants?' may finally have an answer.

What are some Possible Cosmetic Applications for Stem Cells?

Several types of stem cells have been discovered that show great promise for cosmetic applications.

  • Bone marrow stromal cells can differentiate into new bone, cartilage, or other connective tissues.
  • Skin stem cells, found in the basal layer of the epidermis, can be used to repair aged or damaged skin.
  • Follicular stem cells can be used to repair the skin and possibly could help patients re-grow lost hair.

When Will Stem Cell Cosmetic Surgery Be Available?

A recent study conducted at the University of Tokyo showed that stem cells could be used to stimulate the production of natural breast implants. The scientists responsible for the study suggested that this procedure could be available to the general public by 2012.

What Type Of Challenges Do Doctors Face?

Stem cell research shows great promise in the areas of regenerative medicine. Laboratory trials in mice reveal new treatment possibilities for degenerative muscular diseases, heart disease and cancer. However, several refinements must take place before stem cell research can be applied to cosmetic applications.

  • Reliable Signal Regulation The factors that trigger stem cell differentiation into specific cell types are still not clearly understood. Until scientists can reliably create exactly the type of cells needed, therapeutic and cosmetic applications will not be available.
  • Targeting Concerns Much more research is needed to discover how stem cells target a location in the body. If the targeting is understood, cosmetic procedures based on injections could be developed.
  • Production Issues Transplants require hundreds of millions of cells to form even a small amount of tissue. Understanding the growth and proliferation of stem cells is critical to realizing a practical treatment. Until these factors have been decoded, the use of stem cells to create new, healthy skin is still far in the future.
  • Immune Response Adult stem cells re-introduced into their host do not trigger an immune response. However, the immune response to embryonic stem cells has not been fully determined. If stem cells are to enter wide cosmetic use, the immune response to stem cell therapies must be understood.

What are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are non-specialized cells that exhibit a quality known as plasticity. They are able to become other types of specialized cells, such as cardiac tissue, bone, or lung tissue. In the earliest stages of human development, the embryo is almost entirely made up of stem cells. The process of growth and development in the womb is the result of the embryonic stem cells changing?differentiating?into the skeleton, muscles, nerves and all the other parts of the body.

Stem cells are also found in certain tissues of adults. Parts of the body that contain adult stem cells include:

  • Skeletal muscles
  • Blood and blood vessels
  • Skin
  • Liver
  • Bone marrow
  • Brain

Unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells exhibit less plasticity. Adult stem cells are only able to become a limited range of cell types.

Scientists are currently studying both embryonic and adult stem cells. If the ability of these cells to become new, specialized tissue were fully understood and developed, it would revolutionize modern medicine. Treatment of degenerative diseases, on demand transplants and gene-based therapies are just the beginning of the potential benefits.

Stem Cell Cosmetic Surgery & You

As more scientists investigate the practical, cosmetic uses for stem cells, patients should be asking themselves 'Is this cosmetic surgery's next frontier and how will it affect me?'

Until more research is done, there's no guarantee that this procedure will be a viable option for everyone.

What it does promise is an exciting step forward for the future of the cosmetic surgery industry.