AN extra serving of brandy butter could be a life-saver. Doctors and scientists want to extract stem cells from our excess fat to keep on hand as a personal body repair kit.
Flabby hips and thighs could help the treatment of a range of illnesses including heart disease, arthritis, motor neurone disease and diabetes.
Scientists say that the beauty of human body fat is that, unlike existing sources of stem cells, including embryos, it is in plentiful supply and does not raise ethical concerns.
Malcolm Alison, professor of stem cell biology at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said: “Storing these cells is worthwhile because scientists are showing these are very versatile cells and it is best to use your own cells (in treatment).”
He said people should store the cells before they fell ill because “if you needed them for acute liver failure, waiting days (to extract and grow the cells) would be too late”.
Professor Alison is carrying out research to convert stem cells from body fat into insulin-producing cells to treat diabetes.
The type of stem cells found in fat – mesenchymal stem cells – are already known to be able to develop into bone, fat or cartilage. Scientists are now researching their ability to turn into other forms of cells to treat diabetics and heart disease patients.
Professor Alison is working on converting stem cells in fat into beta cells, which make and release insulin, a hormone that controls the level of glucose in the blood.
He said other researchers are working at turning the stem cells in fat into cells to be used in the repair of the liver and to treat disorders of the central nervous system.
“There is a lot of interest in mesenchymal stem cells now because they are abundantly found in fat. There is plenty of fat around,” Professor Alison said.
Any person of average weight would have enough spare fat to extract the stem cells.
One British doctor, Professor Kefah Mokbel, has applied for a licence to store stem cells from the fat removed from women undergoing liposuction as a cosmetic procedure. Professor Mokbel, a consultant breast surgeon at the London Breast Institute at the Princess Grace hospital, believes the procedure will soon become common for all patients having weight reduction surgery.
Companies that offer families storage of stem cells from their babies’ umbilical cord blood, for potential treatment of a wide range of diseases including cancer, cerebral palsy and diabetes, are also now planning to start fat banks.
A new stem cell storage company, Precious Cells, has a list of 15 clients waiting to store stem cells from fat removed during cosmetic surgery.
Shamshad Ahmed, director of Smart Cells, which has been storing stem cells from umbilical cord blood for 10 years, said: “This is a potentially interesting source of stem cells that adults can store as an insurance policy should they become ill later in life.”
In Holland, new research by the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam found that stem cells taken from fat on a patient’s stomach can safely improve the function of the heart after a heart attack.
Results of a small trial of 14 patients, presented at the American Heart Association last month, showed that bloodflow through the heart was three and a half times better for patients who received stem cells from their fat compared with those who received a placebo.
Dr Eric Duckers, lead author of the report, said: “This study suggests these cells can be safely obtained and infused inside the hearts of patients following an acute heart attack.”