Dr Stig-Frederik Trojahn Koelle, from Copenhagen University Hospital, one of the authors of the research, published in the Lancet, says the results 'suggest that stem-cell enriched fat grafting might prove to be an attractive alternative to major tissue augmentation, such as breast reconstruction after cancer [...], with fewer side effects and more satisfying cosmetic results'.
The new technique builds on the more established method of 'lipofilling', where a patient's own fat is removed using liposuction and then transplanted to increase the volume in fat in another area of the body.
But, Dr Koelle told US News, lipofilling can be 'unpredictable, and you often have to repeat the procedure to get a [satisfactory] result'. One major problem is 'resorption', where transferred fat does not survive for very long after the operation. Up to 80 percent of transferred material can be lost in this way.
Dr Koelle and his team tested the new technique in ten healthy volunteers. Following liposuction to collect fat tissue, two fat grafts were prepared for each participant to be injected into the upper arm. One fat graft was enriched with their own stem cells and the other without.
After 121 days, stem cell enriched grafts retained over 80 percent of their initial volume, compared to 16.3 percent for the non-enriched grafts. Higher amounts of newly formed connective tissue and lower rates of tissue death were also observed in the stem cell grafts.
Dr J Peter Rubin, chair of plastic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and a co-author of an editorial accompanying the study, told US News that the results were a 'proof of principle' and would need to be followed up with more substantial trials.
He added that successful animal studies using the technique had already been carried out. 'What's been missing is good data on humans', he said.