Plastic Surgery Leftovers: What Happens When the Procedure is Over?
Most people who go in for a liposuction or a tummy tuck are just happy to be rid of their extra bulk. But what happens to the extracted fat and skin left at hospitals? Does it get thrown away with the rest of the biohazard material? Does it get stolen and turned into fancy soaps like writer Chuck Palahnuik imagined in his novel-turned-movie “Fight Club”? The answer is stranger than you might suspect.
The Skinny on Fat Research
Andipose tissue, or fat, is more than just an unflattering blob of latent energy. Fat functions as an endocrine organ, meaning it creates hormones like leptin, resistin, and cytokine which control things like your metabolism, insulin levels, and the communication of cells within your body. Discovery of the hidden nature of andipose tissue comes from landmark studies as recent as 2001. Dr. Dylan Thomas, Senior Lecturer at Bath University, is part of the newly enlivened andipose tissue research movement that now sees fat as the key to future medical revolutions. With current data Dr. Thomas believes that fat can be turned into stem cells, scrutinized to find a cure for obesity, and recycled for use in reconstructive surgeries. Thus, the scientific world is now scrambling to get wider samples of fatty tissue for study.
It's difficult to collect fat cells from animal for cruelty and practicality reasons (a lab rat can only get so chubby), and extracting samples from a wide variety of donors is both costly and time consuming. This is where cosmetic clinics come in. Dr. Thomas found that the University of Toulouse was getting large samples of biological material from cosmetic clinics in France instead of going the donor route. Since this discovery he’s been tapping into UK cosmetic surgery clinics offering liposuction for his samples. So far he’s received over 13 lbs from a surgery center in Bath, but this number pales in comparison with the collections of other organizations. Cytori, a San Diego based clinic which recycles fat for breast reconstruction, has processed over 5,000 pounds of fat collected over the last nine years.
How to Grow Your Own Skin
Another major example of cosmetic tissue recycling involves a product called EpiSkin. Invented by a Phd student, Dr. Estelle Tinois-Tessonneaud, EpiSkin is an artificial skin that is grown from samples of real extracted skin, usually from a breast reduction or tummy tuck surgeries.
The artificial skin growth process starts with keratinocytes extracted from the top layer of recently harvested skin tissue. The keratinocytes are places on a matrix of collagen which spurs the skin to grow in the five dermal layers (like real skin) at a rate of 3 grown cells to 1 real cell. Because of new laws on animal testing in the European Union, EpiSkin was bought out by cosmetics giant L’Oreal. At their laboratories in France, L’Oreal can use artificial skin in the majority of their studies of new topical products and treatments. Around 150 companies buy samples of Episkin for testing purposes, and at least six companies are developing competing processes for producing artificial skin.
The Ethicacy of Tissue Use
While it may be years until Dr. Thomas sees return on his research into andipose tissue, the companies Cytori and L’Oreal are profiting off of tissue taken from cosmetic clinics. The tissue is often used without consent of the donors because bio-harvesting is a legal gray area. Also in the mix are companies like termed “bio banks” which store collected tissue being used in research at exorbitant rates. The UK has responded to past tissue use scandals with the Human Tissues Act of 2004 which makes the sale of organs illegal and specifies how and when tissue may be used with the consent of the deceased. Regarding this matter the Nuffield Council on Bioethics recently made a report titled, “Human bodies: donation for medicine and research,” which outlines six different tactics for researchers and companies to encourage tissue donation and discusses their relative ethicacy. Though it may be a while before we see a solid answer from the United States on the topic of biological profiting, the incentives for utilizing unwanted tissue from cosmetic procedures will only grow as science expands our understanding of the human body.
Curious about cosmetic surgery? Contact us today to schedule a free and comprehensive consultation with one of our plastic surgery specialists.
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