Adipose Stem Cells Cause Cancer? Or Man Bites Dog and Other Confounders…

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adipose stem cells

Adipose stem cells cause cancer?  A recent news headline caught my attention, White adipose tissue used in lipotransfer can promote cancer progression!!! I was a little dubious, but certainly if they were placing purified mesenchymal stem cells directly on a tumor, something like this could happen.

Certainly the implication of the article was that a simple fat transfer performed for breast reconstruction in cancer patients after a mastectomy might lead to more cancer. For example, the conclusion read, “Taken together, these results show that there are cells in the adipose tissue used in breast reconstruction surgery following breast cancer treatment promote cancer progression and metastasis. This may have important implications for the development of this technique.”

However, instead of finding a well laid out epidemiological study showing more cancer recurrence in patients who had this procedure, I read a rat study. Not just any rat, but a study where they simulated the procedure in rats unable to fight off normal cancer because they are bred not to have an immune system. You might say I immediately smelled a rat, as a study with immune deficient mice is about as poor a model as one could choose to make the statement that fat transfer surgeries are dangerous in human patients. How did the story draw this conclusion? Banal conclusions don’t draw eyeballs, so the science writer sexed this one up a bit.

The upshot? Read the fine print on these stories of mistaken causation (“man bites dog”)!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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