Stem Cells For Beauty?

"Stem cells do have the potential to revolutionize things, but it is not "just around the corner,'" said Costantino. "You can't just inject 'fat' stem cells into a breast and just assume that it's going to make a nice-looking breast. You could just end up with something fairly lumpy and unappealing."

The cosmetic applications of stem cells are "25 to 30 years away, at the earliest," said Thoru Pederson of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass.

Yet some studies are already under way.

"We are starting to see clinical trials with stem cells for reconstructive surgery," Rubin said. "A group from Japan reported on enriching liposuctioned fat with fat-derived stem cells and using the material successfully for breast enlargement."

Cosmetic Uses of Stem Cells a Low Priority

Most experts agree, however, that many other potentially curative and life-saving applications of stem cells take precedence over cosmetic uses.

"Applications to rejuvenation or enhanced personal appearance are much harder to justify at this point and will be driven more by market forces in affluent countries -- not just the U.S. certainly -- rather than by science," Salomon said.

"In my opinion, use of any cells for cosmetic surgery is still problematic," said Dr. Darwin Prockop, director of the Center for Gene Therapy at Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. "The trials that can be justified are in patients with terminal diseases in which the potential risks and benefits are carefully evaluated."

"In all honesty, the more promising (and more quickly realized) aspects of stem cell use in plastic and reconstructive surgery will probably be in producing skin replacement grafts on a large scale," Costantino said. "This could help many, many burn and chronic wound patients."

But for now?

"Though there is an enormous amount of promise with stem cells in plastic and reconstructive surgery, the devil is in some pretty important details," Costantino said.

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