Yes, indeed you read right. Your own fat can be put to good use.
G-d has given us tremendous gifts: stem cells.
“Stem cell research can revolutionise medicine more than anything since antibiotics.” Ronald Reagan, 2004
Fat has a tremendous amount of stem cells that can be used to regenerate damaged tissue.
Stem cells are divided into ‘haematopoetic’ or ‘mesenchymal’ types. The former relates to the production of the different types of blood cells, whereas the latter refers to the regeneration of the different types of tissues comprising the musculoskeletal system, including cartilage, bone, muscle, tendon and ligament.
We are all familiar with bone marrow transplants for patients with leukaemia; these patients are given bone marrow transplants in order that they can regenerate their white or red blood cells. However, the injection of mesenchymal stem cells is a relatively new phenomenon and is becoming more popular, more researched and its injection techniques are advancing all the time.
Both mesenchymal and haematopoietic stem cells exist in bone marrow, and therefore there are many physicians who perform injections of bone marrow aspirates and concentrates into diseased joints and other tissues. However, research has shown that adipose tissue, or fat, comprises about 100 times as many mesenchymal stem cells as bone marrow.
Not only this, but G-d has given us another gift: while the mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow ‘age’ and lose their efficiency in regenerating other tissues, those arising from fat do not age!
People aged 80 years old are almost as capable of making use of their mesenchymal stem cells as young patients.
Conditions that can be treated with an injection of fat:
- Tendon tears
- Possible bone defects such as avascular necrosis- though there is still very little research on this
How is this done?
First of all, the site from which fat is taken is chosen, the patient lies down and the place is cleansed very well. Usually, fat is taken from the abdominal wall or the buttocks. Local anaesthetic is injected into the fat into a large area to cover the region from which the fat will be aspirated. After waiting for about 10 minutes, the fat is aspirated, usually manually as this preserves the fat cells the best. The fat is then filtered to break it up into smaller particles so that the stem cells can be more effective in regenerating tissue once they are injected. Then, once the joint is cleansed and draped, the fat is injected.
Appropriate exercise will improve therapeutic results and this is important because for tissue to become strong, it has to withstand a certain amount of force applied to it.
What does the future hold for us?
Scientists are working on the possibility of culturing these mesenchymal stem cells, so that we will be able to inject them in larger quantities and in purer forms. In addition, there are several types of mesenchymal stem cells, both within bone marrow and fat, some of which are more effective than others in regenerating tissues. More knowledge will be gained regarding the types of stem cells that are worth culturing, and these are likely to differ depending on what tissue we are trying to regenerate.
Steroids will most likely become less and less popular as an injectate. They are proving to be more detrimental in the long term.
Maybe the “reason” we tend to put on a bit of weight as we age is that we may need it someday? While obesity is associated with several diseases and exacerbates osteoarthritis in the first place, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, we shouldn’t look at our tummies and get frustrated that we aren’t exactly what we used to be when we were 20 years old…