As everyone familiar with the plight of now-deceased actor Christopher Reeves knows, the use of embryonic stem cells for tissue regeneration was forbidden in the US until 2009 when President Obama signed an Executive Order setting in motion research that is hoped will uncover cures for serious ailments from diabetes to paralysis. A Phase I clinical trial of the use of stem cells for treating spinal cord injuries is now underway by the biotech firm, Geron.
In the past five years, some attention has turned away from embryonic stem cells to focus on a newer technique discovered at the University of Louisville that found a counterpart for embryonic stem cells (VSELS, 'very small embryonic-like cells') that are found in a patient's own adult stem cells that can be harvested from skin or blood cells. And it is this research which may change cosmetic facial rejuvenation at medspas across the country in the coming years.
VSELS have many of the physical characteristics found in embryonic stem cells, including the ability to differentiate into more specialized cells found in different types of tissues. However, unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells have none of the ethical 'baggage' and immunological problems associated with human embryonic cells.
For the past 5 years, Dr. Vincent Giampapa, a Board-certified plastic reconstructive surgeon and clinical professor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Director has been performing non-surgical stem cell facelifts at the Skin & Body Clinic at the Giampapa Institute in Montclair, New Jersey. The procedure, performed under local anesthesia, takes about an hour and injects a mixture of fat cells (harvested from a patient's abdomen or thighs), the patient's own adult stem cells, and dermal growth factors into the tissues surrounding the eye, cheek and nasolabial fold to effect a noticeable improvement in skin texture, facial volume and shape. The result, a more relaxed, rested facial appearance, has been shown to last 5 years or more. Noteworthy is the fact that the procedure typically eliminates the need for periodic botox and filler injections, which helps justify its $3,000-$6,000 expense.
In 2009, the biotech company Neo-Stem (Link: www.neostem.com), under a licensing agreement with Giampapa, filed a patent application claiming his proprietary stem cell technology for use in non-invasive cosmetic facial rejuvenation procedures. Expect to hear more in the coming months about this procedure as a substitute for botox and fillers and for the surgery-adverse.