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Liposuction reported to be new source of stem cells for heart surgery

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
stem cells, liposuction, cardiac bypass surgery, pain, complications

Liposuction is a common procedure for those who want to remove unsightly bulges; however, a new use for the fat cells extracted in the process has been reported. Researchers from the University of Oklahoma (Norman, Oklahoma) have reported that they have successfully extracted adult stem cells during liposuction and used them to generate new blood vessels. They reported their findings at the American Heart Association’s Basic Cardiovascular Sciences 2012 Scientific Sessions, which were held from July 23 through July 26 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The study authors noted that these newly-formed blood vessels can be used in heart bypass surgery and other complicated procedures requiring healthy vessels. They noted that their new procedure is particularly useful for seniors undergoing cardiac surgery. “For doing coronary artery bypass graft surgery, people who get that are typically elderly, frequently diabetic, and usually pretty sick,” explained lead author Matthias Nollert, associate professor at the University of Oklahoma School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering. He added that the more typical way for getting stem cells from adults for transplantation was to extract cells from the bone marrow. He explained that extracting bone marrow was not a simple process because it is an invasive procedure that is not well tolerated by patients, particularly elderly ones. Thus, use of fat cells was an excellent alternative source for older, sicker patients.”

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Obviously, another plus of the procedure is that not only liposuction less invasive but also unwanted body fat can be removed in the process. Dr. Nollert notes that creating new tissue from fat stem cells is a fairly new science, which has only been under development within the past decade. Dr. Nollert and his team are the first to create a vascular graft out of fat stem cells with muscle cells making up the blood vessel’s wall. To create the vascular graft, the researchers transformed the stem cells into smooth muscle cells in the laboratory and “seeded” them onto a thin collagen membrane. They then rolled them into tubes with the same diameter as small blood vessels; three to four weeks later, usable blood vessels were formed.

Dr. Nollert noted that the use of liposuction-derived blood vessels could eliminate complications surrounding heart bypass operations in which a healthy blood vessel is necessary for the procedure. He explained that the usual procedure to obtain a blood vessel was to excise a vein from the leg or arm to use as a bypass around the blockage. However, about one third of the patients needing cardiac bypass surgery have poor-quality blood vessels. These vessels have a limited life span of four to five years; thus, the patients often need a repeat procedure at that time.
Another advantage of liposuction-derived cells is that the process yields hundreds of milliliters of fat cells that can be used to generate blood vessels; this represents a much larger quantity than can be derived from bone marrow extraction. In addition, the use of fat stem cells could also help to eliminate a major complication that comes with coronary bypass. Dr. Nollert explained that about a third of the individuals that suffer complications after having bypass are re-hospitalized because of problems at the donor site such as pain or inflammation.

Reference: American Heart Association’s Basic Cardiovascular Sciences 2012 Scientific Sessions