Stem-cell applications for the aesthetic market may not be imminent, but some researchers have begun to investigate the uses of stem cells in reconstructive medicine.

“Hair-follicular stem cells, tooth stem cells, and skin stem cells all show therapeutic promise,” says Denis English, editor-in-chief of the journal Stem Cells and Development and director of cell biology at the Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla. “These can restore hair to a bald man, teeth to those in need, and skin to scarred patients.”

Physicians say the use of stem cells to regenerate tissue holds promise because they can be nudged to develop into specialized cell types. Plastic surgeons have turned an eye toward stem cells for this very purpose.

In October, a University of Pittsburgh research team received a 3-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to explore the possibility of using stem cells derived from a patient’s own fat. Researchers used those cells to create a durable, shaped piece of replacement tissue, which may one day allow breast cancer survivors to take advantage of a natural replacement after a mastectomy.

“Naturally, the public shows more interest in applications like breast augmentation,” says Peter Constantino, MD, director of the Center for Facial Reconstruction and Restoration at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

Although initial research into the potential of stem cells in reconstructive surgery is promising, physicians note that actual applications—particularly those of a purely aesthetic nature—are still distant.

“By the time it becomes practical and affordable, I suspect it will be beyond our lifetimes,” says Garry Brody, MD, professor emeritus of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.

[abcnews.go.com, December 4, 2006]