Instead of extracting fat from patients directly for stem cell research purposes, researchers have found a way to make use of the fat removed during liposuction surgery.
A recent report in Scientific American points out that researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine are learning how to use fat cells to turn them into stem cells. Previously, researcher had been using standard skin cells to make induced “pluripotent stem (iPS)” cells for medical research. This process involved scraping the cells from the skin and then working with the cells for several weeks before preparing them for stem cell research processes.
Doctors found that it is much easier to use fat cells for this type of research because it’s easy to access the resource, and each liter of fat yields millions of potential cells that researchers need for stem cell studies. Fat stem cells are more suitable for this type of research because, according to Dr. Joseph Wu, co-author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University, “We know that these fat cells are multipotent, which should [make it] easier to reprogram them.” (Source: Scientific American)
Using fat cells for stem cell research means the research process can begin immediately after the fat has been harvested. The fat cells are harvested via liposuction and can be put to use that very same day. In many cases, the turnaround time for these cells to be prepared for stem cell research is just two weeks, which is about half the time it would take for cells extracted from the skin, liver or other tissues.
According to Dr. Wu and his team, there are still some questions to be answered before fat cells can become the standard for iPS cell research. However, they could be the critical link for speeding up the stem cell research process and allow researchers to culture the cells they need at a faster rate.