A recent article in the New York Times brings into focus what happens when cosmetic surgeons market “stem cell therapy” directly to consumers. In addition to capitalizing on our fears of looking our age they are grossly overstating claims regarding the effects of stem cells. What is even more disheartening about this behavior is that plastic surgeons have actually led the way in the basic science surrounding adipose-derived stem cells. I have several friends and colleagues engaged in this research and indeed there seems to be something salubrious occurring in areas where adipose-derived stem cells are transferred as a part of fat grafting.
In the field of plastic surgery we see what Steve Phillips mentions in his blog run amok. Plastic surgeons function along a continuum between cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery: cosmetic surgery’s goal is to improve upon normal, and reconstructive surgery’s goal is to restore what is abnormal back to normal. There are two Latin phrases that govern those different aims: caveat emptor and primum non nocere. What happens is that the cosmetic surgeon accepts the caveat emptor of the marketplace and usurps the techniques and nascent discoveries being cautiously advanced by the surgeon-scientists. With our society’s preoccupation with enhancement there is a huge demand to bring these unproven treatment modalities “to the street.” For those of us trying to do no harm as we wait for the appropriate data on adipose-derived stem cells it can be frustrating.