Regenerative medicine is no longer a future thought. By Kim Bell

The process of triggering signalling pathways in our bodies to heal and rejuvenate itself is well studied and acknowledged in modern medicines. "Given the correct tools and sufficient time, our body has an immense capacity to 're-invent' itself. Just think how athletes, body builders and even ordinary people like you and I are able to transform our bodies by exercising and eating the correct foods," explains Dr Kamlen Pillay, medical director of Wembley MediSpa and a member of the World Society of Anti-Aging Medicine, the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine and the Aesthetic and Anti-aging Medicine Society of South Africa.

Description: Stem cells for life

But did you know that your skin and various other organs in the       body have a similar capacity to "re-invent"?

Pillay explains that skin-aging occurs primarily as a factor of collagen depletion due to fibroblasts (those cells that produce collagen) becoming old and decrepit. "For years scientists have scoured the earth trying to find ways to stimulate fibroblasts to produce more collagen - little did we realize that the answers lay within our own bodies." Stem cell regeneration is a topic that has been bandied about for a few years now. And, thanks to new initiatives with adult stem cells, these are not considered as controversial as they once were.

"The technique of using adult stem cells, whether harvested from adipose tissue or circulating blood, has been employed for around the last 20 years, but has been gaining significant momentum in aesthetic medicine from around the turn of the century," says Pillay.

Stem cells are considered pluripotent cells - which literally translated means "many powers". "In technical terms this means that stem cells can become any type of cell in your body, including fibroblasts, by expressing certain epigenes in their DNA. By grafting stem cells into the skin through the processes of controlled injury, these stem cells take on the form of the cells of their surroundings and thus become different types of skin cells, such as epidermocytes, fibroblasts, myelocytes, and thereby produce new and revitalized and rejuvenated tissue," he adds.

Anti-Aging Treatments

The theory is that stem cells revitalize organs, and your skin is the biggest organ in your body. In skin rejuvenation treatments, stem cells are extracted from your blood and are applied to the areas where the underlying collagen and elastic begin to break down, thereby causing wrinkles. The result is that the stem cells then accelerate wound healing, producing fresh tissue and a more youthful skin.

Pillay says he has been using this technology successfully: "We are extremely fortunate in South Africa to have a number of world class physicians who travel overseas and learn new techniques as well as those that conduct world class research in stem cells. In fact, some of the latest developments in stem cell research come from within our shores."

He explains that the ability to use your cells for anti-aging treatments has a number of advantages in terms of decreased side-effects, potential rejections and allergic reactions. "Being able to give patients long-term results by stimulating their bodies to heal itself in a gentle, sustainable manner is for me the biggest advantage of using stem cells as opposed to treatments that confer only temporary results."

Pillay adds that other benefits include versatility in treating a wide variety of conditions, most treatments are usually painless and downtime associated with these minimally invasive treatments are almost zero.

“Some of the latest developments in stem cell research come from within our shores”

Fat Grafting For Fillers

Description: Fat Grafting For Fillers

Cape Town Plastic surgeon Stuart Geldenhuys adds that the development and refinement of fat grafting techniques has created a revolution in traditional approaches to facial rejuvenation. Fat grafting is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that involves removing your own fat and re-implanting it in other areas of your body as required - typically the face, breast or buttocks. Stem cell fat grafting is a technique of enriching your fat cells to enhance the graft survival. Fat has very high concentrations of multi-potential stem cells which can be extracted by liposuction. This fat is then processed, rendering a small quantity of stem cells - typically 150ml to 250ml of fat to form 5ml of fluid containing stem cells. In stem cell grafting, this is added to the fat normally used for grafting. The addition of these stem cells is thought to enhance fat survival by releasing growth factors or signalling messages.

"Current evidence indicates that stem cell grafting enhances survival of the transported fat and this is a better choice where larger volumes of fat are being grafted, as is the case in a single procedure breast and buttock augmentations. The face is naturally more vascular and fat survival more predictable; however, stem cell fat grafting in the face is more of a luxury than a necessity and the costs of stem cell grafting are considerable," adds Geldenhuys.

Pillay concurs: "Stem cell treatment is unfortunately quite costly at present and this cost currently represents a barrier to entry for many patients. The techniques are also not easy to master by physicians and one might not necessarily be able to access stem cell treatments at all physician practices. This is compounded by the fact that stem cell equipment is also expensive to purchase."

“We are leading the way into an era of generative medicine, in which damage from cancer, heart disease and a host of other ailments can be healed”

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