Fat May Be a Safe Source of Stem Cells in the Elderly

Martha Kerr

November 20, 2006

November 20, 2006 (Chicago) — Stem cells can be grown in large numbers from the abdominal fat of elderly patients with cardiovascular disease, according to new research. Adipose tissue may be a safe, reliable source of autologous stem cells for use in elderly patients to repair vascular tissue.

Previous studies attempting to harvest stem cells from adipose cells have focused on young, healthy subjects. At the American Heart Association 2006 Scientific Sessions, researchers announced that elderly patients with cardiovascular disease can serve as their own source of stem cells, using the relatively safe, conventional procedure of liposuction to extract abdominal fat from which large numbers of stem cells can be harvested.

Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, led by Paul J. DiMuzio, MD, associate professor of surgery, are growing and isolating adipose-derived stem cells in elderly patients with a variety of manifestations of cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Muzio presented findings in 25 such patients who were undergoing elective vascular-related surgery. Approximately 15 g of abdominal fat were extracted from each patient using liposuction.

Stem cells were cultured from the adipose tissue, and then the number and quality of the cells was compared with adipose-derived stem cells taken form young, healthy subjects in previous studies.

Dr. DiMuzio announced finding "no significant difference" between young and older patients in terms of the number of cells derived per gram of fat. "They were nearly equivalent," he told meeting attendees.

The number derived from men and women was "roughly equivalent," with a marginally larger number of cells per gram of fat in women. The same was true between obese and leaner patients, who had statistically equivalent numbers of stem cells.

The group in which there was a difference was patients with diabetes, who proved to be a poorer source of adipose-derived stem cells than their nondiabetic counterparts.

Patients with kidney failure showed no disadvantage as a source of autologous stem cells. "This could be very important for patients who need tissue-based dialysis grafts," Dr. DiMuzio pointed out.

Surprisingly, patients with cardiovascular disease, in general, proved to be a better source of stem cells than healthy control subjects, he said, but the number in this group is too small to make any real conclusions.

"We are now looking at the quality of the stem cells," Dr. DiMuzio told Medscape. "So far, we can't tell a difference. The cells grow and proliferate at the same rate and they have the same markers. But we don't know if they have the ability to differentiate."

Elliott M. Antman, MD, American Heart Association spokesperson and professor of medicine at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, commented in an interview with Medscape after Dr. DiMuzio's presentation, that "this is the least studied of the possible sources of stem cells.

"If stem cells can be harvested in sufficient numbers from elderly patients, this research will be very intriguing....," Dr. Antman said. "And who isn't willing to give up some fat?"

Dr. DiMuzio and Dr. Antman report no relevant financial relationships.

AHA Scientific Sessions 2006: Abstract 2191. Presented November 15, 2006.


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