'Natural' breast implants, using stem cells extracted from a woman's own stomach or thigh tissue, could soon be offered to women in the UK following the announcement of a trial beginning in May this year. Although the experimental treatment has already been successfully trialled on a small number of UK breast cancer patients, and has been available in Japan for six years, this is the first time that it will be offered to healthy women.
At present the maximum increase that women undergoing the treatment can expect is up to one cup-size, however more dramatic enlargements may be possible as the technology develops. The treatment involves extracting stem cells from fat extracted from stomach or thigh tissue and then injecting them into the woman's chest. Previous trials which attempted to implant fat tissue directly, without isolating stem cells, failed to re-grow adequate blood vessels; however stem cells positively encourage this. Ten women are expected to have the experimental treatment when the trial commences in May.
The treatment is less likely to lead to long-term complications than conventional silicon implants, according to consultant breast surgeon Kefah Mokbel, who is leading the trial at the London Breast Institute at the Princess Grace hospital, because it involves only the woman's own tissue and thus avoids implanting foreign objects in the body.
'This is a very exciting advance in breast surgery,' he said. 'Breasts treated with stem cells feel more natural because this tissue has the same softness as the rest of the breast. Implants are a foreign body. They are associated with long-term complications and require replacement. They can also leak and cause scarring.' The treatment could be available privately within six months and will cost approximately £6,500, according to Professor Mokbel.
However, some specialists are concerned about the prospect of beginning trials on healthy patients, before results from trials on cancer patients are available. Eva Weiler-Mithoff, a consultant plastic surgeon at Canniesburn hospital in Glasgow, who is involved in running a European trial of the treatment for patients who need breast reconstruction following surgery to remove cancerous lumps, has expressed concern that patients undergoing cosmetic surgery would be liable to skip vital follow-up appointments.