For the average person, a connection between liposuction and stem cells is not one that comes to mind easily. However, Philippe Collas of the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences at the University of Oslo in Norway, and his team have identified certain chemical marks allowing them to predict which stem cells in liposuctioned fat can actually regenerate tissue. The team recognised that unwanted fat contains stem cells with the capacity to repair defects and heal injuries in the body.
Speaking at the EuroSTELLS Workshop “Exploring Chromatin in Stem Cells” in Montpellier, France in January, Collas said scientists would be able to take a patient’s own fat cells and use them for therapy if the nature and location of these molecular tags are uncovered.
"Fat tissue is an underappreciated source of stem cells," Collas said. While there is a lack of other sources of adult stem cells, like bone marrow, the amount of unwanted fat is in abundance. “It’s wonderful, we have litres and litres of material from cosmetic surgery clinics and end up with bucketfuls of stem cells to work with,” he told the workshop members.
Meanwhile, University of Bologna’s Cesare Galli, who is also the project leader of EuroSTELLS, said the transplanted fat stem cells have the potential to restore injured sports horses to peak performance. “Our aim is to regenerate the tendon structure that does not repair spontaneously," Galli said. "If you intervene, with cell transplants, within one week, you can repair the lesion.”
Therapies using bone marrow stem cells, which are like fat stem cells, have already proved to be somewhat successful. However, researchers are now using fat stem cells because they can be obtained more easily. While most researchers are unsurprised by the results, some claim it would be impossible to re-programme adult cells into specific cells if embryos are not present. As such, the use of fat stem cells would be limited.
Nonetheless, the transformation is possible, according to Collas. The obstacles the researchers must overcome are the cell’s epigenetic status, the subtle chemical changes of DNA and the surrounding histone proteins. “Look at a cell’s epigenetic profile and you may be able to predict what the cell is likely to turn into,” Collas noted.
Ernest Arenas, a EuroSTELLS researcher at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, said everyone is now investigating epigenetic signatures. “Scientists in the stem cell field are starting to realise that for cell manipulations to succeed they need to pay attention to their epigenetic marks.”