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Are Stem Cells the Future of Breast Reconstruction?

StemCell-Under-MicroscopeThe best way to achieve a natural look and feel after breast reconstruction is a subject that’s always at the forefront of any reconstructive surgeon’s mind, along with potential ways that existing surgical techniques could be further refined and improved. It’s not surprising, then, that the medical buzz about stem cells would eventually apply to reconstructive breast surgery as well. Could stem cells become a beneficial part of breast reconstruction after cancer in the future?

The Power of Stem Cells

Stem cells are unique within the body in that they are capable of growing into any type of specialized cell. The potential implications of stem cell use in medical applications include regrowth of cartilage for arthritic joints, or even transplants that are performed using organs grown from stem cells, negating the need for donors. The idea of using stem cells in combination with reconstructive breast surgery is not to grow a new breast, however, but instead to enhance the efficacy of a process that’s already in use: fat grafting.

Fat Grafting in Breast Reconstruction

Fat grafting involves the collection of fat cells from an area of the patient’s body and subsequent injection into another area—in this case, the breast. Fat transfer can help correct irregular contours following a lumpectomy without the need for synthetic implants. Yet, the results of fat grafting can be inconsistent, as not all cells remain viable after the transfer.

Recent research indicates that including stem cells as part of the transfer process can decrease resorption rates significantly, delivering much more reliable results and a potentially feasible alternative to implant- or flap-based reconstruction in the future. Although significantly more research is needed before stem cell breast reconstruction techniques are considered feasible or even available, the implications are certainly hopeful.