So, I had a wonderful week at FutureMed learning from leading scientists who are doing cutting-edge research in such areas as regenerative medicine (RegenMed). Per Wikipedia, regenerative medicine is the “process of replacing or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function.” RegenMed holds the promise of regenerating or repairing damaged tissues and organs, often by using stem cell technology or by stimulating the body’s own repair mechanisms, in order to heal previously irreparable tissues or organs. This is cutting edge science.
Imagine my surprise at being able to continue to expand my knowledge in that field while at my dentist’s office. He makes available for his patients’ reading pleasure, recent copies of that great American medical journal, People Magazine. It just so happens that one of the lead stories in the February 13 issue was about Suzanne Somers’ new breast, grown from her own stem cells — celebrity RegenMed…cool, but not without some controversy.
Somer’s new breast
Somers was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 2000. She had a lumpectomy (and radiation therapy) which left her with a disfigured right breast. She says that after surgery, when the bandages were removed “sixty-five percent of my breast was gone. I had a DD on one side, and on the other side I could barely fill a B cup.”
She did not opt for a traditional TRAM flap reconstruction or implants after surgery, opting instead to wait because she believed “something better will come along.” That “something better” was, for her, a stem-cell breast reconstruction procedure. Although the technique has been in play in Japan for about ten years, it evidently had not yet been done in the US when Somers worked with Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center to launch a US clinical trial. Somers became a participant in that trial. Here is the description of her procedure, as told in People Magazine:
“Plastic surgeon Dr. Joel Aronowitz removed about 1000 ccs of fat from Somer’s stomach (the equivalent of roughly four soda cans) via liposuction. He then harvested stem cells from half of the fat and combined them with the remaining amount of fat. The mixture was injected back into Somer’s right breast until it filled a C cup. Somers then had her left breast reduced from a DD to match. The 2 1/2 hour process costs between $14,500 and $19,500 (insurance kicks in if the surgery is a reconstruction) and is part of a clinical trial open to women looking for breast reconstruction or enlargement. For more information, go to hollywoodpresbyterian.com.”
Some caution is needed
The People Magazine story quotes Dr. Peter Rubin, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center as saying, “this is an experimental procedure. It’s not ready for prime time yet.” His concerns are that stem cells could stimulate the growth of cancer cells as they have done in some animal testing and the procedure could interfere with cancer screenings.
In fact, Japanese researchers from the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Nippon Medical School, appear to concur with Dr. Rubin writing in the May-June 2010 issues of Aesthetic Surgery Journal that:
“Recent technical advances in fat grafting and the development of surgical devices such as liposuction cannulae have made fat grafting a relatively safe and effective procedure. However, new guidelines issued by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in 2009 announced that fat grafting to the breast is not a strongly recommended procedure, as there are limited scientific data on the safety and efficacy of this particular type of fat transfer. Recent progress by several groups has revealed that multipotent adult stem cells are present in human adipose tissue. This cell population, termed adipose-derived stem cells (ADSC), represents a promising approach to future cell-based therapies, such as tissue engineering and regeneration. In fact, several reports have shown that ADSC play a pivotal role in graft survival through both adipogenesis and angiogenesis. Although tissue augmentation by fat grafting does have several advantages in that it is a noninvasive procedure and results in minimal scarring, it is essential that such a procedure be supported by evidence-based medicine and that further basic scientific and clinical research is conducted to ensure that fat grafting is a safe and effective procedure.”
The People Magazine article makes it clear that Somer’s has a past history of doing things her own way. She passed on chemotherapy opting instead for treatment with iscador, an extract of mistletoe. She also used bioidentical hormones from extracts of soy and wild yams to treat her menopause systems. Oprah opined that Somers “might be a pioneer,” however, Dr. Andrew Weil, the undisputed media king of alternative medicine, worries that “she has put out a lot of misinformation.”
We will have to wait and see if the retrospectoscope determines that Suzanne Somers was a pioneer bravely leading the way into a new age of post-cancer breast reconstruction or a misguided pseudoscientist gambling all for a cosmetically pleasing breast. I personally am hoping for the former. Thanks for sharing, Suzanne.
Editor’s note (5/4/17) – I couldn’t find much reliable information on what has happened to Suzanne’s regenerated breast since this post was published. For what it’s work, here is a link to the April 2017 Townsend Letter on the topic. Townsend bills itself as “the Examiner of Alternative Medicine.”