It was about ten years ago that I first met Dr. Sidney Coleman. He had just published a text called Structural Fat Grafting and was showing his results which were superior to others I had seen. I had been studying fat grafting since 1991 when I did my first case. I immediately saw the genius behind his methods backed up by beautiful photographic documentation; I purchased his book, had him sign it, bought all of the recommended equipment and was on my way.
It was about this time that it became obvious that adipose tissue was special in ways we had never figured. Our own fat turns out to be the bodies’ primary depository of mesenchymal stem cells, rather than from bone marrow, explaining adipose tissue’s ability to rejuvenate our faces when injected into the face.
After a number of years and hundreds of cases I began to notice a pattern in our results. It became clear that our older (>60 years old) patients seemed to have much less than the 80-90% graft survival that we had become accustomed to. Others had noticed the same phenomenon (PRS 2014 August; 134(z), 227-232) but placed the cut-off at 45 years of age.
Empirically we studied the gross appearance of the suctioned and centrifuged fat noticing there tended to be a demarcation within the fat layer itself. Approximately 30-50% of the fat looked somehow different, less “cellular or robust” if you will. The location of the donor fat areas also seemed to appear different with the entire specimen seeming more cellular. Donor locations have been studied and our observations confirm that flank and upper buttock fat seem more vital than abdominal or thigh fat. For younger patients the opposite seems true.
We also believe, as do others, that stem cells from older individuals seem to lose some of their “potency” in regards to being multi-potential mesenchymal cells. The rejuvenating ability of adipose derived stem cells may age and become less potent over the lifetime of the organism. This observation has practical implications as many people are choosing to donate their adipose stem cells for possible future use as a treatment for certain diseases and possibly even cancer. It makes sense to donate one’s stem cells as early- as young- as possible to have maximum effectiveness. The cryopreservation of adipose tissue is now a growing industry requiring only standard liposuction techniques to obtain the fat which is cryopreserved indefinitely for a small yearly storage fee and a one time set-up fee by the storage facility (not including in-office surgical removal).
The development of liposuction about 30 years ago was driven by our patients who asked for a method to reduce body fat without the scars associated with the usual tummy tuck procedures. Our primary focus is the safe removal of isolated pockets of fat to improve body contours. While the goal (fat removal) has always been the same, the methods of anesthesia for liposuction have changed through the years making the procedure more “patient friendly,” yet achieving the same contour results. Most of the technological advances are intended to make the fat removal easier and, even more importantly, an attempt is being made to tighten loose skin and improve the appearance of cellulite utilizing the latest surgical laser technology. Most plastic surgeons believe that the skin tightening effects have not been as impressive as the manufacturers claim. Each manufacturer slightly alters the laser platform so their product can be claimed as “unique” while there is no discoverable clinical difference in the final result. Laser assisted liposuction is marketed under any number of trademarked names including Smartlipo, Vaser, Slim Lipo, Cool Touch, etc. The marketing department of the manufacturer uses the trade names to market these laser liposuction platforms directly to the patients. The laser can be purchased by ANY practitioner, even those with no laser or surgical training. Regardless of the laser manufacturer, the practitioner is told that the patient referrals will be generated through their web marketing and the practitioner is allowed to use the trademarked name (Smartlipo) in their practice marketing efforts.
This marketing strategy is similar in design to the pharmaceutical companies who advertise their drugs directly to the public and offer the names of certain physicians who prescribe their products. All of these marketing schemes are evidently legal, but in the laser liposuction example, the machines are sold to any doctor with the money, training is offered but not required, marketing and patients are guaranteed without checking the doctor’s credentials. The red elephant in the room is that laser liposuction is inherently more dangerous than standard tumescent liposuction techniques and in many instances is performed by non-plastic surgeons who are damaging their patients because of a lack of basic education and the need to market the trademarked product that they own rather than choosing the proper technique for each individual patient.
Many of these doctors ask you to ignore their training and credentials and emphasize their marketing skills. In the final analysis, patient education is not advanced with unclear or even false advertising and many people have suffered as a result.