Cells give cosmetic surgery a new face

IMAGINE looking like a woman in her forties — but with a brain that’s almost a century old. Visualise the trauma of losing an arm in an accident — but then simply growing a new one.

Very soon we may live in a society where face transplants are common or where thirty-somethings routinely sign up for drug-based anti-ageing programmes which can also prevent weight gain.

Unbelievable? Not at all, according to the experts. In fact the revolution is already here, says consultant plastic surgeon Dr Labros Chatzis.

He points out that recent years have seen much less emphasis on invasive surgery such as major face-lifts because the technology involved in using your own cells to rejuvenate your skin has become increasingly sophisticated.

In some countries mothers are already requesting to have their newborn baby’s umbilical cords frozen — to be used years down the road as a medical resource in the case of skin reconstruction after a burn, or simply for the child’s cosmetic use later on.

“We’re moving away from the big surgical procedures to operations such as a mini-tummy tuck or face-lift. They don’t give the same result, but surgeons realise that the price you can pay in terms of complications for the really big cosmetic operations can be enormous,” says Chatzis, Medical Director of the River Medical Group in Dublin.

“The days when a patient would go into a theatre and spend hours having different procedures like a facelift, a breast augmentation and a tummy tuck — which could amount to eight hours of surgery — is now considered unethical as so many hours of surgery increase the risk of complications.”

The recession has had an inevitable effect on the industry — there has been a shift in demand for certain procedures such as facelifts according to Anthony Ryan, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon at the Blackrock Clinic. “People are not coming in to spend money on facelifts now, whereas three or four years ago they certainly would have done. It is not essential surgery.”

However, in the long-term, non-invasive treatment is set to become the norm as the public buys into the concept of cosmetic medicine, says Liz Dale, managing director of The Harley Medical Group (THMG).

Over the next few years, Chatzis expects to see invasive surgery replaced by new technology. There will be an avalanche of products such as new fillers to plump out the skin as well as new non-surgical facial treatments:

“We expect to see a ‘miracle machine’ which would do proper skin tightening.

“Such technology would work by heating the dermis, changing the collagen or elasticity in the skin, shortening the molecules and tightening the skin.

In effect, he says, it would have the same effect on the facial skin as immersing a woolly jumper in hot water.

It’s already possible to inject a person’s own cells to rejuvenate the skin, he says:

“These cells could be from the person’s original umbilical cord — now they can be stored and deep frozen for use by you.”

There’s already a huge market servicing this demand.

“There are hospitals in Italy, France and Greece where a woman can ask to have her newborn baby’s umbilical cord frozen.

“This is something that will become a lot more common. Cords can be stored for use for skin reconstruction after a burn or to help a patient recover for injury or for cosmetic use.”

On top of this, public attitudes are changing as the concept becomes increasingly normalised:

“Younger girls are already getting nose jobs from age 15 and up. It’s all peer pressure. There are people out there in this country who would give a girl of 15 a breast augmentation. This is something that will increase as demand increases in line with peer and media pressure.”

The next 30 or 40 years should see a huge change in the acceptance of plastic surgery, says Chatzis.

“Within 30 years I think the non-surgical element will be seen as a very real and important part of a beauty routine particularly on the maintenance/ preventative side.”

The future is anti-ageing:

“I see drugs and procedures coming that will literally stop ageing or delay ageing.”

It won’t be long, he believes, before treatment will become available to allow a person look 50 years younger:

“These treatments work on the cells themselves to extend the lifespan of the cell. Cosmetic treatments to delay signs of ageing will slowly merge into a whole programme of anti ageing that could start as early as the thirties, to delay the ageing. People will live longer and look younger,” he says.

The cosmetic surgery of today will develop into a specialisation which will be primarily aimed at the prevention of ageing — and against getting fat, he predicts. “If the science is there to keep the body healthy and looking young, you could look forty but your brain would still only have the ability of a 95-year-old.”

Cosmetic surgery itself has reached a plateau in terms of development, agrees Patrick Treacy of Dublin’s Ailesbury Clinic but, he says, cosmetic medicine is the future.

“We’re trying to make people look younger. The future is cosmetic medicine and the technology it brings to the table.”

From here on in, he believes, the emphasis will be on technology and on regenerating tissue: “This immediately opens up all the newer aspects of stem cell technology — cloning — and, further into the future, the whole area of tissue regeneration.

“We currently have the ability to use stem cells to change fat cells into breast gland tissue to increase the size of the breasts, for example through people using their own adult cells.”

The technology to clone new hair cells is already in place, he says — this will be a commercial option in a few years’ time.

“Instead of hair transplants, hair cells will be cloned and allowed to grow individual hair follicles. We’re entering a brave new world. This will lead to safer procedures for patients and less possibility of the body rejecting artificial substances which are placed in it.

“In many ways we’re overcoming the natural decaying process in every cell — essentially we are manipulating nature to our own advantage.”

Tissue regeneration is still about 30 years away, he believes:

“Stem cells can only make a particular line of cells, for example pancreatic cells, and that’s not much good if you cut off your arm because stem cells cannot grow you a new arm or new skin.

“Tissue regeneration could for example grow a new breast or a new arm. This is 30-50 years away yet but that’s where the research is going now — into tissue regeneration rather than stem cells.”

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