Are stem cells becoming the Next Big Thing in the world of cosmetics? The Web is full of ads for everything from stem cell breast enhancement to expensive facial creams that promise "anti-aging" miracles.
But the advertising claims are running far ahead of the scientific evidence for safety and effectiveness, according to a review in the August issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
"Stem cells offer tremendous potential, but the marketplace is saturated with unsubstantiated and sometimes fraudulent claims that may place patients at risk," said Dr. Michael T. Longaker of Stanford University Medical Center.
Longaker is concerned about the unregulated use of stem cells for unproven indications — including cosmetic procedures. While stem cell therapy "remains in its infancy," he wrote, "there are a growing number of cosmetic practitioners that are advertising minimally invasive, stem cell-based rejuvenation procedures."
The article was prompted by "worrying advertisements" claiming benefits of stem cell procedures for facelifts, breast augmentation — even "stem cell vaginal rejuvenation."
These ads claim benefits from procedures that have not undergone rigorous scientific evaluation — including potential risks related to stem cell and tissue processing and the effects of aging on stem cells, Longaker said.
To date, just one stem cell procedure for cosmetic purpose has received FDA approval, the article notes. That product, designed to treat fine facial wrinkles, is undergoing extensive post-approval surveillance. Of more than 100 clinical trials being performed to evaluate fat-derived stem cells, only a handful are focusing on cosmetic treatments.
"With plastic surgeons at the forefront of stem cell-based regenerative medicine, it is critically important that we provide an example of a rigorous approach to research, data collection, and advertising of stem cell therapies," Longaker said. "Stem cells offer tremendous potential for cosmetic applications, but we must be vigilant to avoid unscientific claims which may threaten this nascent field."