Would you trade hip, butt or belly fat for somewhat larger breasts—if safe and "natural" feeling? The discovery of stem cells in fat tissue could make this more than hypothetical, and implications go beyond the beauty myth.
Sure, putting a pair of bare breasts on the cover of Wired is a transparent ploy. And you could be forgiven for feeling like this is yet another message about how your boobs aren't good enough and plastic surgeons are more than happy to relieve you of your dollars to "fix" that.
And yet as the Wired story shows, lumpectomy and mastectomy patients stand to benefit from the discovery. Moreover, the same technology developed to try to capitalize on the market for breast "enhancement" could end up having life-saving uses far beyond it. And, you know, some women just want bigger boobs and don't find silicone implants appealing.
So how does this work exactly? Doctors experimented with injecting liposuctioned fat directly into other parts of women's bodies in the 80s and 90s, but the effect would be temporary as the body gradually absorbed that fat. According to Wired's Sharon Begley, it was a female post-doc, Min Zhu, who made the key discovery that if you use blood as feeder cells, you could get adipose tissue to differentiate into bone and cartilage, muscle, or neuron.
That was in 2001, and since then, a plastic surgeon and a medical device maker teamed up to create the Celution, a sort of magic box that centrifuges fat cells and readies them to be injected back into the body in pearl-like droplets. "Within 48 hours, new capillaries and blood vessels entwine through the injected cells, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the now-stable tissue," according to Wired.
That integration into the body means the procedure could be ideal for women who have had lumpectomies; currently, it's far harder for plastic surgeons to "fill in" a partially removed breast than it is for them to start over entirely.
The story makes clear that the massive market for changing women's boobs was more than enough incentive to start there, as was the fact that breasts just aren't as essential to functioning as other organs, so messing with them potentially carried less risk.
About that risk: The procedure's already been successfully tested in Europe and Japan, and now the company behind it is trying to convince the FDA to let them conduct a clinical trial here. The FDA isn't thrilled about injecting "blood-vessel promoting cells into patients who have had breast cancer," though animal trials have so far shown no adverse effects. But it's all happened incredibly fast by scientific standards, so who knows what the long term effects might be.
If all goes well and the procedure is used not only on breasts but to regenerate organs, it would be a unexpected social reward for both the vanity industry and those extra pounds we're carrying around. Hooray for the free market?
The Future Of Breasts [Wired]