Plastic Surgery Leftovers Are a Boon to Research

What happens to the skin, fat, and other tissues that are removed during the course of plastic surgery. Most of the time, these surgical leftovers are destroyed, but sometimes they can be reused by researchers and scientists. According to a recent article in the UK Telegraph, leftover fat extracted through tummy tuck surgery and similar procedures is helping doctors develop new and exciting insights.

Human fat offers a variety of benefits for research, says Dr. Dylan Thompson, a senior lecturer in human and exercise psychology at Bath University. It releases a variety of proteins and hormones into the body, and can offer a better understanding of how exercise affects the body, as well as reveal potential treatments for obesity. Fat can be converted into stem cells, which can be used instead of embryonic stem cells. Harvested fat may also be useful for breast reconstruction.

Dr. Thompson originally began his research by extracting fat samples from volunteers. However, these samples were in tiny amounts, and limited in usefulness. After seeing French plastic surgeons using leftover fat at Toulouse University, he says, “it really was a no-brainer to try and do the same thing here in the UK as well.” Since then, his team has collected roughly 13 lb. of fat left over from plastic surgeries.

A number of companies have emerged that store and sell fat for commercial enterprises. Cytori, a cell therapy clinic in San Diego, has accumulated more than 2.5 tons of fat over the past 9 years. Other companies collect fat in special facilities and sell it to researchers and scientists. Leftover skin has also found commercial applications, as beauty giant L’Oréal now uses cultures of human skin extracted during breast reduction. These skin samples are kept alive in petri dishes and allow researchers to test new products without harming animals.

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