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Most cosmetic procedures based on stem cells are bogus

Updated: Aug 04, 2014 02:40 PM
© iStockphoto.com / David H. Lewis © iStockphoto.com / David H. Lewis

MONDAY, Aug. 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Could stem cell injections help rejuvenate your face or body? Probably not, plastic surgery experts say, but ads for these types of bogus procedures abound on the Internet.

"Stem cells offer tremendous potential, but the marketplace is saturated with unsubstantiated and sometimes fraudulent claims that may place patients at risk," a team led by Dr. Michael Longaker, of Stanford University Medical Center, wrote in a review published in the August issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

The experts say consumers need to be wary of advertisements promoting the benefits of "minimally invasive, stem cell-based rejuvenation procedures." Claims for stem cell procedures for facelifts, breast augmentation and vaginal rejuvenation are not only unsubstantiated, but also risky, Longaker's team said.

They note that, to date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved only one cosmetic stem cell procedure designed to treat fine facial wrinkles. And since that single procedure was approved, the product involved has been monitored extensively.

Overall, cosmetic stem cell procedures have not undergone significant scientific scrutiny, the Stanford team said. The risks associated with stem cell and tissue processing have not been closely examined. The effects of aging on stem cells are also not well established, the researchers explained.

To investigate concerning claims being made about cosmetic stem cell procedures, the researchers performed a basic Internet search. They found the most common result was "stem cell facelifts." Most of the procedures used stem cells isolated from fat but did not provide details on the quality of the stem cells.

More than 100 clinical trials are currently evaluating stem cells derived from fat, but few are focusing on cosmetic treatments. The researchers cautioned that the products used in these cosmetic procedures likely involves additional types of cells unless they utilized sophisticated cell-sorting techniques.

Many blood plasma-enriched "platelet protein treatments" are also incorrectly advertised as stem cell therapy, the study's authors noted.

Meanwhile, there is only minimal evidence that cosmetic stem cell procedures have any anti-aging effects, the researchers said. They warn that stem cell facelifts may actually be "lipo-filling" procedures -- fat injections with no prolonged anti-aging effect.

Although stem cells do hold potential for cosmetic procedures in years to come, today's advertising claims for these procedures are going beyond any scientific evidence on safety and effectiveness, the researchers conclude.

"Stem cells offer tremendous potential for cosmetic applications, but we must be vigilant to avoid unscientific claims which may threaten this nascent field," Longaker and the review's co-authors wrote.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more insight on the potential of stem cell therapies.

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