Stem-cell-enriched fat grafting may enhance the results of cosmetic and reconstructive procedures, new research suggests. The study, which appears in the September 28 issue of The Lancet, is the first randomized human trial of stem-cell-enriched fat grafts.

Researchers from Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark recruited 10 healthy volunteers who had liposuction. The fat was then purified and injected into their upper arms. One arm was enriched with stem cells, and the other arm received a traditional fat transplant. After about 4 months, the researchers took MRI images of the fat transplants and removed the grafts. The grafts that were enriched with fat-derived stem cells retained 80.9% of their volume, compared to the standard grafts that retained just 16.3% of their volume. Four months later, stem cell grafts also demonstrated higher amounts of adipose tissue and newly formed connective tissues. Moreover, there was less necrosis in the stem-cell-enriched fat grafts compared to the standard grafts.

Sam Rizk, MD, a New York City facial plastic surgeon, reviewed the study for Plastic Surgery Practice.The Lancet study on lipo-filling is important to substantiate the work that many plastic surgeons are doing with fat grafting in humans,” he says. “I have been using fat combined with platelet-rich plasma as an adjunct with most of the facelifts I perform for the past several years.”

He adds: “In my experience with hundreds of cases, the results have been significant. There appears to be a rejuvenative effect on the skin that we can attribute to the activity of growth factors.” Going forward, “I am optimistic that as more research is done in this evolving area, we will be able to predict more accurately what fat grafting and stem cells can and cannot do.”

In an editorial accompanying the new study, J Peter Rubin, MD, and Kacey G Marra, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh wrote that, “These therapies could revolutionize breast reconstruction after cancer and reconstruction of deformities after trauma, for example. “