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Fat Stem Cells Being Studied As Option For Breast Reconstruction
(press release from
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center)
Breast cancer survivors might one day avoid the prospect of invasive breast
reconstruction surgery, opting instead for an approach that would involve using
stem cells derived from their own fat, suggest University of Pittsburgh
researchers who are studying the potential these cells may have for regenerating
new breast tissue.
In animal models, the researchers hope to prove that an injection of fat-derived
stem cells that are seeded onto microscopic scaffold structures will enable the
production of a durable, replacement soft tissue. The team, led by J. Peter
Rubin, M.D., assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, recently received a three-year
grant from the National Cancer Institute to further explore this unique
"The surgical options for breast reconstruction involve either the use of
implants or a procedure whereby fat tissue taken from another part of the body
is shaped into the form of a breast. Neither is ideal nor without risk. The use
of adipose- or fat-derived stem cells may represent a better solution for soft
tissue reconstruction in breast cancer patients," said Dr. Rubin, who also is
co-director of the Aesthetic Surgery Center at the University of Pittsburgh
The use of stem cells to treat disease or regenerate tissue is believed to hold
promise because of their potential to develop into different specialized cell
types. Indeed, when exposed to specific conditions in the laboratory,
fat-derived stem cells have been shown to differentiate into cells
characteristic of those from tissues such as fat, bone, cartilage, nerve, muscle
and blood vessels.
Dr. Rubin and his colleagues are focusing their efforts on an approach that
involves combining the fat-derived stem cells with microscopic beads composed of
a type of extracellular matrix (ECM) that has regenerative properties.
Preliminary results indicate that the stem cells can easily attach themselves to
these beads and are able to differentiate into mature fat cells. When injected
under the skin in a rat model, the cellular combination eventually formed what
they describe as a "mound" of tissue.
The fat-derived stem cells being used in the study are obtained from breast
"We need to demonstrate that fat-derived stem cells taken from a breast cancer
patient behave no differently than those from other women. Moreover, our studies
will seek to understand what effect, if any, these stem cells may have on cancer
cells. A major question is whether they will in some way promote the growth of
cancer cells. We certainly hope this proves not to be the case," Dr. Rubin
In 2001, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles and the
University of Pittsburgh first reported that adult stem cells could be isolated
from adipose tissue, more commonly known as fat. Since then, laboratory studies
have suggested adipose-derived stem cells have potential for treating heart
attack, stroke or bone injury, although there have been no clinical trials in
the U.S. to date. Experts estimate that one pound of whole fat removed in a
tummy tuck, for example, can yield up to 200 million stem cells, which in
culture can be expanded by 10 times over the course of two weeks. If and when
fat-derived stem cells are tried in patients for breast reconstruction, Dr.
Rubin predicts surgeons will obtain the cells from the patients' own stores of
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 214,000 new cases of
invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed by the end of 2006. For women who
require mastectomy, the loss of one or both breasts can cause significant
discomfort and psychosocial distress. More than 80,000 breast reconstruction
operations are performed each year, according to American Society of Plastic
CONTACT: Clare Collins
Working with Dr. Rubin on the NIH-funded grant are co-investigators Kacey G.
Marra, Ph.D., from the department of surgery, division of plastic surgery,
School of Medicine, and the department of bioengineering, School of Engineering;
Albert D. Donnenberg, Ph.D., from the department of medicine, division of
hematology/oncology, School of Medicine, and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer
Institute (UPCI); and Vera S. Donnenberg, Ph.D., of the department of surgery,
School of Medicine and UPCI. Stephen Badylak, D.V.M., M.D., Ph.D., from the
department of surgery, School of Medicine, and the University of Pittsburgh
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine; and Howard D. Edington, M.D., of
the department of surgery, division of surgical oncology, School of Medicine and
the McGowan Institute, are consultants.
Contact: Lisa Rossi
University of Pittsburgh Medical
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