Blog #3 9-26-11 Fat Stem Cells

Blog #3


Fat Stem Cells

Today’s blog involves the use of fat-derived stem cells.  This subject is near and dear to my heart, as I am the Co-Director of the Adipose Stem Cell Center at the University of Pittsburgh.  (Adipose=Fat).  I have been working with fat stem cells for nearly 10 years.  We have not yet injected these cells into people.  But many others across the world have.  These adult stem cells have been used to treat diabetes, multiple sclerosis, fistula’s, breast augmentation, bone repair….etc.  Why aren’t they FDA-approved in the US yet?  And if they are not approved, how did Texas Governor Perry Rick Perry use his own fat stem cells for his back pain?  And why did Peyton Manning go to Europe for fat stem cell treatment in his neck?

Rick Perry’s story is a little complex.  It involves politics, of course, and many details can be found here:

The bottom line, however, is that Perry had fat removed from his hip area, the fat was sent to a lab and the stem cells were cultured for a few weeks, then the cells were injected both into Perry’s spine and his bloodstream.  What is the evidence that these stem cells will help relieve his back pain?  Not too much.  Perry’s surgeon went to Japan a few years ago to have his own fat stem cells injected into him to relieve his autoimmune arthritis, and apparently in 5 months he was healed.  And earlier this year, Bartolo Colon underwent the non-FDA approved treatment as well (  Colon is a professional baseball player who had both his fat stem cells and bone marrow stem cells injected into his elbow and shoulder.  Now the MLB association is investigating (should this be considered in the same category as steroids?).

Rick Perry’s decision to try an expensive, non-FDA-approved therapy is very scary.   There are more studies that need to be conducted before scientists and doctors can determine if this adult stem cell therapy is safe.  If it isn’t successful for Perry, (or worse yet, if it is detrimental), then this is a black mark for our entire field.

Regarding Peyton Manning, his therapy has been much more of a secret.  There are several clinics throughout Europe that offer fat stem cell therapies.  Initial reports indicated that Manning’s own fat stem cells were injected in his neck ( but recently, some have indicated that Manning may have used induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).  ( These are the cells George Bush referred to several years ago when he was touting adult stem cell therapies.  These are adult cells that can be genetically reprogrammed to behave as embryonic stem cells (meaning that they can become any type of cell, whereas adult stem cells are limited in the types of cells that they can become).  The use of iPS cells in humans is very controversial…very little testing has been done.  In animals, it has been shown in some studies that up to 20-70% of mice injected with iPS cells get cancer. (For further reading: Nature 460 (7259): 1149–1153).  This just proves that more research is needed on all stem cell therapies before being examined in humans.  And new protocols are being developed to obtain iPS cells that don’t result in tumor formation.

In conclusion, there is much more research that needs to be conducted before fat stem cells can be used in humans, and the patients going abroad for therapies that are simply life-improving (and not life-saving) are very risky.

Good luck to Manning, Colon and Perry, and all the others who plan to undergo this therapy before it is FDA-approved.



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