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Stem cells may prevent tissue rejection in breast reconstruction surgery

Scientists are reporting breast reconstruction surgery may be improved by adding stem cells and fat to the procedure.

A new study published Sept. 26 in The Lancet found the technique was superior to typical reconstruction surgeries that use only fat grafts harvested from elsewhere in the body.

More than 232,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Women who undergo surgical removal of their breasts, or mastectomy, to treat their cancer may undergo breast reconstruction.

Options include getting breast implants or taking skin, muscle and fat from elsewhere in the body to help reconstruct the breast. According to the study's authors, the majority of board-certified plastic surgeons in the U.S. opt for this technique which is called lipofilling or autologous fat grafting.

But all the fat doesn't always take in its new location, they added, with rates of the percentage of transferred fat not surviving as high as 80 percent according to some studies, which may require additional grafting.

That's where stem cells may help.

Researchers recruited 10 healthy volunteers to compare tissue survival rates from stem-cell enriched fat grafts to traditional grafting techniques. All 10 subjects underwent liposuction from one side of their abdomen to collect fat. Then the scientists prepared two grafts for each person: one enriched with stem cells derived from fat, the other without. Both were injected in their upper arms. Scientists used MRI scans to measure the volume of fat from the graft immediately after the transplant and just before the grafts were removed after four months.

Stem-cell treated grafts retained significantly more fat volume than the non-enriched ones, with higher amounts of tissue and newly formed connective tissue reported. Once the grafts were removed, the scientists found significantly less tissue death, or necrosis, in the stem cell group.

The researchers say their findings may not only help breast reconstruction, but other graft plastic surgery procedures as well.

"Our promising results suggest that stem-cell enriched fat grafting might prove to be an attractive alternative to major tissue augmentation, such as breast reconstruction after cancer...or major tissue flap surgery, with fewer side effects and more satisfying cosmetic results", study author Dr Stig-Frederik Trojahn Kolle, a researcher at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, wrote in the study.

"We've known that this works in animals. What's been missing is good data on humans," Dr. J. Peter Rubin, chair of plastic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who co-authored an editorial published in the same journal issue, said to HealthDay.

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