A 60 year old woman sought $20,000 experimental cosmetic surgery in Beverly Hills to have adult stem cells injected into her face. The thinking was that since stem cells can turn into any kinds of tissue, they will release chemicals to rejuvenate and heal surrounding tissues.
Such face-lifts supposedly rejuvenate the skin because stem cells turn into brand-new tissue and release chemicals that help heal aging cells and stimulate nearby cells to proliferate.
Cosmetic surgeons isolated adult stem cells from adipose tissue from abdominal liposuction. They extracted mesenchymal stem cells, pluripotent cells capable of differentiating into bone cartilage or fat. Surgeons inserted the stem cells into the woman’s face, especially around the eyes. To reduce wrinkling, surgeons also inserted dermal filler, routinely used by plastic surgeons.
Unfortunately, the principle ingredient in dermal filler is hydroxylapatite, a mineral complex that also induces mesenchymal stem cells to differentiate into bone. Three months later, Cosmetic surgeon Dr. Allan Wu admitted a woman who reported right eye pain and “click-clack” noises when she opened and closed her right eyelid.
Six and a half hours of surgery later, surgeons extracted bones from her right eye. The noises she heard were small bones grinding against each other when she moved her eyelids.
Though the case is unusual, such treatments are not. An estimated hundreds of clinics around the country offer untested stem cell therapy for anything from reducing wrinkles to curing autism.
Cell Biologist Paul Knoepfler notes:
Many of us are super excited about stem cells, but at same time we have to be really careful. These aren’t your typical drugs. You can stop taking a pill and the chemicals go away. But if you get stem cells, most likely you will have some of those cells or their effects for the rest of your life. And we simply don’t know everything they are going to do.