Yes, you read correctly. You can well utilize a small part of your fat to restore damaged tissues in the body. God has given us tremendous gifts: stem cells.
‘Stem cell research can revolutionize medicine more than anything since antibiotics.’ Ronald Reagan, 2004
Fat tissue has a vast amount of stem cells that can be used to heal and regenerate damaged tissue. We’ve all heard about bone marrow transplants for leukaemia and other diseases, a relatively old treatment; these patients receive bone marrow transplants so they can regenerate their white or red blood cells. These stem cells specialize in the production of different types of blood cells. We want the ‘mesenchymal’ stem cells, which primarily originate from fat and bone marrow, and are intended to restore damaged tissues in the musculoskeletal system, including cartilage, bone, muscle, tendon, and ligament.
The injection of mesenchymal stem cells is a relatively new phenomenon and is becoming more popular, being studied more and advancing in specialised techniques all the time. There are many doctors who prefer to use stem cells from bone marrow. However, research has shown that fat tissue contains about 100 times more mesenchymal stem cells than bone marrow. Not only that, but God has given us another gift: while the mesenchymal stem cells in the bone marrow ‘age’ and lose their effectiveness in regenerating other tissues; those derived from fat do not age! They can repair tissues at the age of 80 almost as effectively as in young people.
Conditions that can be treated with fat injection:
- Cartilage degeneration
- Tendon and ligament tears
- Avascular necrosis – there is still very little research on this
People who have private insurance are likely to have this procedure largely covered financially. The system that we use is called ‘Lipogems’ which is FDA-approved and recognised in Israel by the Health Ministry.
How is it done? First of all, we choose the place from which we aspirate the fat – usually from the abdominal wall or buttocks. The patient lies down on his back, his abdomen is cleansed and draped. Local anaesthetic is injected into the fat over a large area to cover the area from which the fat will be aspirated. After waiting about 10 minutes, we draw about 10-20 ml of fat, usually gently and manually as this approach preserves the fat cells in the best way. Then, the aspirated fat undergoes purification from the anaesthetic, red blood cells and other debris in order to concentrate the stem cells. After cleaning the joint area or the torn tendon in a sterile fashion, we are ready for injection.
After the injection, it is advisable to treat the structures in the vicinity using other techniques, such as platelet injection or prolotherapy to improve the function of the entire area. It is recommended to wait a couple of weeks before starting strenuous physical activity.
What does the future hold?
Scientists are working on the possibility of culturing these mesenchymal stem cells so that we can inject them in larger quantities and in purer forms. In the next decade, more knowledge will be gained about the types of stem cells that are worthwhile growing, and it is likely that these will change according to the tissue we are trying to restore. Steroids will be less used for injection. There is more and more evidence of their negative effects in most cases when treating musculoskeletal problems.