By Damon Noto, MD
After over ten years, Suzanne Somers finally found what she was looking for. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and losing the majority of her right breast, Somers declined conventional reconstruction methods with the notion that something better would eventually come along. This past August, her hopes of using a more natural reconstruction method finally came true. Along the way, Somers has helped pave the way for this new procedure to finally be used on women in the United States.
The breakthrough that Somers was looking for began its development in 2003 when a professor and surgeon at the University of Tokoyo in Japan began testing a new procedure called cell-assisted lipotransfer. Katoro Yoshimura, MD, developed a method in which stem cells derived from one’s own fat cells are injected with other fat cells to plump up or replace tissue. Yoshimura’s innovative use of a higher concentration of stem cells helped to prevent the normal problems associated with transporting fat alone. Stem cells allow for the preservation of fat cells that would normally have a risk of hardening after a transplant procedure. They also allow fat cells to regenerate as they stimulate the growth of blood vessels.
Although body fat already contains stem cells, Yoshimura needed a way to increase the concentration of these cells in the body fat to reduce post-operative atrophy. To do this, he used liposuction to remove fat from another part of the body. After isolating the stem cells from this fat, he combined them with the reserved fats to create a natural cosmetic filler that has been used in this procedure on over 400 women. Advantages of this method of breast reconstruction include no scarring and no implant being used.
After deciding to move forward with this surgery in 2008, Suzanne Somers had a big challenge ahead of her. Since no trials were underway in the United States, she would have to either leave the country for surgery or receive approval from an Institutional Review Board to have the procedure done stateside. Since she wanted to pave the way for other American women to have this procedure done, Somers decided to go through the necessary steps to have trial procedures approved in Los Angeles. After three years of struggling to get the procedure approved, the first official cell-assisted lipotransfer trial was launched and in August 2011, Suzanne Somers became the first of 100 participants to take part in the trial.
According to Somers the surgery was a success. Somers says she couldn’t be happier with the outcome of her procedure. The procedure took less than two hours to complete with the actual breast reconstruction taking around only ten minutes.
Cell-assisted lipotransfer is a valuable alternative to conventional breast reconstruction and shows one of the many benefits of stem cell usage.
Click to read more about the innovative procedure and Suzanne Somers’ story.