Los Angeles and Pittsburgh researchers report they have taken stem cells from extracted fat and grown them in the laboratory. Indeed fat, called adipose tissue, could one day replace bone marrow and fetal tissue as sources of stem cells, said Dr. Marc Hedrick of the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine.
Hedrick and his co-investigators from the University of Pittsburgh report their findings in the April issue of the journal Tissue Engineering.
Stem cells or progenitor cells are immature, undifferentiated cells that researchers can prompt to develop into specialized cells, such as bone or nerve. Hedrick said in an interview with United Press International that fat tissue is rich in all types of stem cells, including those that develop into blood cells as well as cells that will become bone or cartilage.
"The novel concept here is that we are taking something that was thrown away – fat – and breaking it down into component parts for reuse," said Hedrick.
Hedrick and his team harvested the stem cells from fat they extracted from the addomen, thighs, arms and backs of patients undergoing a cosmetic surgery procedure called liopsuction.
The researchers then isolated different types of stem cells from the tissue, and "then we grew them out in the lab. These cells are very, very hearty and grow very well," said Hedrick.
Dr. Farshid Guilak of Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C, said the study by Hedrick confirms similar work at his own facility.
"This is very gratifying to find confirmation from another laboratory," Guilak said.
While Hedrick's team is interested in several different types of stem cells, Guilak's group is concentrating on growing cartilage from fat, what he believes will be the technique's first clinical application.
The Duke researchers are planning studies in mice to determine if the cells harvested from fat can lay down new cartilage in an injured joint, Guilak told UPI.
Hedrick said his group was also planning to follow up with animal studies, and it would be "five years or so before we can attempt human studies."
Hedrick said, too, that the most likely use of the stem cells from fat would be for "autologous transplants." That means that cells will be transplanted into the same person who had the fat removed.
"At some point it may be possible to use cells harvested from donor fat for transplants, but not until autologous transplants are successful," Hedrick said.
Guilak agreed that autologous transplants will come first, but he said that it was "easy to envision banking adipose derived cells in the future."
Hedrick's study was funded by Wunderman Family Foundation, Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative, Plastic Surgery Education Foundation and American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
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