Stem cells to grow bigger breasts

A STEM cell therapy offering “natural” breast enlargement is to be made available to British women for the first time.

The treatment could boost cup size while reducing stomach fat. It involves extracting stem cells from spare fat on the stomach or thighs and growing them in a woman’s breasts. An increase of one cup size is likely, with the potential for larger gains as the technique improves. [via timesonline]

A trial has already started in Britain to use stem cells to repair the breasts of women who have had cancerous lumps removed. A separate project is understood to be the first in Britain to use the new technique on healthy women seeking breast enlargement.

Professor Kefah Mokbel, a consultant breast surgeon at the London Breast Institute at the Princess Grace hospital, who is in charge of the project, will treat 10 patients from May. He predicts private patients will be able to pay for the procedure within six months at a cost of about £6,500.

“This is a very exciting advance in breast surgery,” said Mokbel. “They [breasts treated with stem cells] feel more natural because this tissue has the same softness as the rest of the breast.” He said the treatment offered the potential of considerable improvement on implants: “Implants are a foreign body. They are associated with long-term complications and require replacement. They can also leak and cause scarring.”

Although the stem cell technique will restore volume, it will not provide firmness and uplift.

Mokbel believes the stem cell treatment may be suitable only for modest increases in breast size, but will conduct research to find out whether larger augmentations can be achieved: “We are optimistic we can easily achieve an increase of one cup size. We cannot say yet if we can achieve more. That may depend on the stem cells we can harvest.”

The cells will be isolated from a woman’s spare fat, once it has been extracted from her thighs or stomach, using equipment owned by GE Healthcare, a technology company. The concentrated stem cells will then be mixed with another batch of fat before being injected into the breast. It takes several months for the breast to achieve the desired size and shape.

Until now, when fat was transplanted to the breast without extra stem cells, surgeons had difficulty maintaining a blood supply to the new tissue. Surgeons believe the double concentration of stem cells under this technique promotes the growth of blood vessels to ensure a sufficient blood supply circulates to the transplanted fat.

The same technique has been used in Japan for six years, initially to treat women with breast deformities caused by cancer treatment and, more recently, for cosmetic breast augmentation in healthy women.

Mokbel is confident the therapy is safe and that, after carrying out about 30 procedures, the London Breast Institute will be able to offer the procedure to private patients.

The use of stem cells in healthy women undergoing cosmetic surgery is controversial. Medical bodies have warned that the breast enlargements should not be offered to healthy women until large-scale trials in cancer patients have shown that the new technology is safe and effective. The treatment is not yet routinely available to women solely for cosmetic purposes.

Eva Weiler-Mithoff, a consultant plastic surgeon at Canniesburn hospital in Glasgow, is leading the British arm of a European trial of stem cell therapy for women who have been left with breast deformities following removal of cancerous lumps.

So far more than a dozen British cancer patients have been treated and Weiler-Mithoff is impressed with the results. She does not believe this justifies offering the treatment to healthy women, however.

She said that while breast cancer patients regularly attend follow-up appointments, young women who have had cosmetic surgery are less likely to do so and complications could be missed.

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