Plastic surgery that looks more natural than plastic

After you have spent a good chunk of your money to get a cosmetic procedure like a breast lift or buttocks lift done, the last thing you want is gravity undoing the great work after a few years. Neither do you want to look like a blow-up doll. You want subtlety. At least that’s what a good surgeon will give you for your money.

And this is where the stem cells come in. Everyone has stem cells, and they are more popularly used in the medical world for treatment of blood cancers. In fact, WHO reports that more than 50,000 stem cell transplants are done annually worldwide for that purpose. But stem cells are now being used in the field of plastic surgery in Kenya. Research has enabled extensive use of stem cells in reconstructive and cosmetic surgery compared to other fields in medicine.

And besides ensuring that the work done looks great for longer, stem cell use in plastic surgery gives one a more natural look than an obviously enhanced appearance and shorter recovery time from procedures.

“There is also a decline in very aggressive and extensive procedures, as patients do not want to spend a lot of time recovering from the surgery,” says Dr Radovan Boca, a plastic, reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon at Aga Khan University Hospital.

What is a stem cell?

These are special human cells that are able to develop into many different cell types. They are immature cells that are able to make other cells to mature and function as needed. This is what makes them special; and why they are also used to fix damaged tissues.

 So how are stem cell transplants used in plastic surgery?

Stem cells are not only found in the blood and bone marrow but also in fat, which is now extensively used in cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. The abdominal fat has more stem cells than the bone marrow, so in procedures like breast reconstruction, doctors use the patient’s own stem cells from the abdominal fat to build a new breast.

The stem cell transplant is used on people who want to enhance their bodies through common procedures such as liposuction, tummy tucks, breast enlargement or reduction, face-lifts and buttocks lifts. Victims of accidents with scars and burns also benefit from stem cells transplant through remodeling tissue, which leads to scar improvement. They are also used to slow or reverse the aging of the skin and to restore lost tissue. “People who are seeking plastic surgery now prefer procedures that are effective, but with minimum disruption, in achieving a good look... and they want to feel better about themselves,” says Dr Radovan Boca.

Be wary of botches

Even though these surgeries are generally considered safe, the risks could be significantly increased if carried out by untrained personnel who do not understand the procedures well. “I, unfortunately, on a regular basis, get to see patients who need salvage surgery resulting from botched procedures,” says Dr Boca. “Seek the services of specialists who are well trained in the field.”

Though tissue transfer has been around for close to a century, very few people have had the expertise in this field that has taken modern plastic surgery by a storm. Researchers believe that stem cell-based therapies may one day be used to treat serious illnesses such as paralysis and Alzheimer disease.