Putting Liposuction Leftovers to Good Use


Ever wonder what happens to all the fat sucked out during liposuction? If you feared it was going to waste, worry no more. According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the gelatinous material can be converted into embryonic stem cells.

"We've identified a great natural resource," said Stanford surgery professor and co-author of the research, Michael Longaker. The physician also called lipo leftovers "liquid gold."

Changing regular adult stem cells to embryonic stem cells poses a number of problems. Four genes, known as Yamanaka factors, need to be expressed to change adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which mostly resemble embryonic stem cells. Doctors often experiment with skin cells for this procedure. But like some adults, mature cells are resistant to change. It takes skin cells about three weeks in the lab to convert to iPS cells.

The Stanford researchers looked at adipose, or immature fat cells, which lie within a labyrinth of fat and collagen in our bodies. These fat cells are already expressed at higher levels and only two of the four Yamanaka genes need to be converted, which turns the fat cells into iPS almost immediately. Researchers are also excited because these cells easily convert to iPS without the aid of feeder cells, which are cells from mice that enable stem cell growth outside the body. Researchers then can reprogram iPS cells into bone, muscle, organ, or brain cells. As far as scientists know, iPS cells are the same as embryonic stem cells and will be as useful in treatments.