By Dr. Cole, FUE Hair Transplant Pioneer

What are Derived Stem Cells? The Benefits, Recovery and Cost

Derived stem cells

What are Derived Stem Cells?

Stem cells are a type of cell found throughout the body, and they are used by the body to replenish more specialized cells as they age and die off. There have been many years of research to try and use these cells to rejuvenate the body, and prolong life and health-span. Early research into stem cell therapy involved the use of embryonic stem cells. These are cells that are extracted from living fetal tissue. Needless to say, the process was expensive and controversial. Later research looked into the use of bone marrow derived stem cells. Getting these is very difficult, since it requires drilling holes into bone. The recovery is also significant and difficult. More recently, it was discovered that stem cells could be extracted from a patient’s fat deposits. Harvesting cells from someone’s abdomen or buttock is far easier to do, and the quality and number of cells that can be derived is much higher.

What are Stem Cells good for?

There are many uses of different by-products of extracted fat, also referred to as lipo aspirate. This substance can then be further refined into microfat and nanofat. These more refined products allow for use in smaller areas. The lipo aspirate can also be processed into stromal vascular fraction or SVF, a substance rich in the stem cells mentioned earlier, and then the results can be recombined to produce injectable products to meet many different needs.

These products can be used as filler, to fill in fine lines and wrinkles on the face, as well as in larger quantities, to enhance or reconstruct breast tissue, buttocks and other parts of the body. The advantage of using these products instead of traditional fillers or implants, is that the tissue is the patient’s own, so there is little risk of rejection. Also, it’s living tissue, which will grow where you put it. Traditional fillers get reabsorbed by the body, and have to be replenished periodically, in order to retain the youthful look the filler provides. Fat grafting, on the other hand, can last for many years, effectively replacing the youthful fatty deposits that time had taken away.

The Mechanism

Fat grafting into the scalp can also help rejuvenate your hair, by replenishing the fat in the dermis, and the stem cells that have died off and migrated away over the years. Unlike Platelet Rich Plasma, the use of lipo grafting, enriched with SVF, can produce a result that is far longer lasting. Good PRP is effective primarily in the short term, with benefits petering out after 9 months. This requires repeated PRP treatments, multiple times per year. Scalp lipografting with SVF can last much longer, and appears to have a more pronounced effect, in terms of improving hair density, and delaying hair loss.

Much like PRP, the best candidates for fat grafting of the scalp are patients that still have hair in the affected area. The grafted stem cells are producers of growth factors, which will goad dormant follicle stem cells into growing hair again, and help strengthen and thicken the hair that is still present. Fat grafting can also improve the outcome of a hair transplant, by providing both growth factors and fat to the newly grafted follicles, helping them grow faster and more robustly.

So what’s involved in harvesting fat? Well, I had it done twice. Once as a standalone treatment for hair loss, once as a preparation for a subsequent hair transplant surgery. First, a region for harvesting is selected. For me it was the belly. The amount of fat harvested was small, so sadly I didn’t end up with a six pack after the procedure. First, the area to be harvested is numbed up using injections of local anesthetic. Next more anesthetic and saline are injected deeper into the abdomen, to help open a cavity in the fat area. This process was not painful. Next a large long tube called a cannula is introduced. Both the anesthetic injections and the cannula are introduced through the belly button, effectively leaving no visible scars. The cannula is then moved back and forth throughout the belly to capture the fat. The whole fat extraction can take between 20 and 30 minutes. 

Once extraction is completed, processing of the aspirate begins. The fat is processed either by using a digester, which uses an enzyme called collagenase, to break down the protein scaffolding that holds the fat together. This can also be done mechanically, through the use of special cutting screens and filters. 

The resulting processed fat is then put into a centrifuge, where the freed up oil, fat cells and SVF are separated. The SVF will end up at the bottom of the test tube in the form of a “pellet”. The pellet is extracted, and then mixed with the right proportion of processed fat, as well as PRP and other substances that provide extra potency. 

The last step is to inject the prepared substance back into the scalp. The scalp is numbed up using a series of local anesthetic injections in a ring around the scalp. The mixture is then injected throughout the scalp, and is subsequently micro needled.

My Procedure, The Recovery and More…

The first treatment for me did yield some growth, but it was insufficient to avoid a transplant. This was because my hair loss was extensive. The second treatment occurred a few weeks before my transplant. I believe it contributed significantly, to both my early growth (I had 90% of my follicles growing hair by month 4), and the robustness of my result. I believe that if you are dealing with particularly aggressive hair loss, and you catch it early enough, Fat derived stem cell treatment would be a good option to use in conjunction with pharmaceuticals like finasteride and possibly PRP. Fat derived stem cell treatment can also be a big help to the success of a hair transplant. My donor supply was slightly below average, and my hair loss was extensive (Norwood 5 A) so adding these things really improved my chances at a good result. 

Fat Derived Stem Cell treatment is fairly involved as I mentioned before, and cost can be high. Further, its benefits are going to vary from person to person. However, the risk of complications is low, and when dealing with a borderline case like mine, The benefits it provides can make the difference between a successful result and one that is less than ideal. 


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