Could the FDA Be Taking Away Your Right to a Fuller Derriere?!
Fat grafting, also known as fat transfer, is one of the fastest growing trends in plastic surgery with close to 85,000 fat transfer procedures to the face, breasts and buttocks performed last year alone, according to statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. More than 18,000 fat transfers were performed on the buttocks exclusively, and it’s no surprise since fat grafting is a great way to use your own fat, harvested through liposuction, which is then placed into the buttocks to add volume. But is your ability to pursue fat transfer to the buttocks in jeopardy?
Will the FDA restrict buttock fat grafting procedures in the future (and all other fat grafting procedures for that matter)?
Right now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking at fat transfers and stem cell therapies in general, to determine how safe they are and to possibly limit the use of these therapies. Now, some of what I say from here on out will be through the lens of a plastic surgeon. So my comments may tilt towards, and support, the way I use fat versus how the rest of the cosmetic industry uses fat and stem cells.
First, a little background: Stem cells are the cells that can differentiate into more specialized cells like muscle or bone or nerve tissue in the embryo. Stem cells are being used in research currently, under FDA supervision, to develop treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and the like. We’re not really talking about how stem cells are being used in those situations. What the FDA is holding a public hearing about later this year, is how fat, which contains stem cells, is being used in promoting facial rejuvenation or anti-aging therapies without much evidentiary support.
In other words, the ads you see like this ad from a great article in wired.com from 2009 promising the fountain of youth by using stem cells are questionable. There’s no good long-term evidence that any of these treatments work. I’m not saying they don’t work, but the FDA is appropriately concerned with quacks promising their patients a return to youthfulness if the patient allows the “doctor” to inject the patient’s stem cells, along with a proprietary mixture, back into their body. It sounds too good to be true and you know what that means… it usually isn’t true. Can you imagine a doctor saying, “I’m going to draw some of your blood, mix it with these unnamed chemicals and then inject the cocktail back into your body or joints or face and see what happens!” Trust me when I tell you that you should run out of any so-called physician’s office who is willing to do such a thing.
At present, the use of stem cells for anti-aging therapy is questionable from an evidence-based standpoint. Unfortunately, since removing fat and placing it back into the body (as is done with buttock augmentation procedures or fat transfers to the face and breasts) have been lumped into the same category as stem cell therapy, the FDA is also looking into fat grafting as well. Many plastic surgeons are using fat as a filler, similar to how you would use Restylane or Juvederm to fill in lines in the face. We’re putting fat into the face, as well as the buttocks. We’re providing the patient with a treatment to plump and contour these areas. Before and after photos show that what we’re promising – placing fat to replace age-associated volume loss - is being provided. We’re not promising a fountain of youth, we’re not promising anti-aging, we’re not even saying that the stem cells that happen to be in the fat will be a quick fix. We’re only injecting fat to plump up the cheekbones, breasts or buttocks. So I don’t think fat transfer procedures are as questionable as the promises being made specifically for stem cells.
However, with the FDA holding public hearings on these issues, we have to be concerned about it disallowing fat injections along with stem cell therapy.
So, what’s the takeaway here? As a board-certified plastic surgeon who has performed many fat grafting procedures, I can assure you that when performed in the hands of a skilled surgeon, with years of experience in fat grafting, the results will be to your liking.
To learn more about fat grafting, visit the procedure page.