Fat is the best medicine: "Adipose tissue contains many multipotent stem cells, approximately 500 times more than bone marrow"

Interview with Dr. Inge Matthiesen, human med AG

The not so popular "love handles" could revolutionize medicine in the near future. In cooperation with the University of Rostock (Prof. Hermann Seitz), the human med AG Company currently seeks to develop a device that is able to gently remove adipose tissue during surgery and subsequently isolate stem cells.


Photo: Older women with short grey hair and glasses - Dr. Inge Matthiesen; Copyright: privat

Dr. Inge Matthiesen; © private

The obtained lipoaspirate is meant to be used for treating burns and chronic wounds for instance. MEDICA.de spoke with Dr. Inge Matthiesen on this subject.

Dr. Matthiesen, what can extracted fat be used for in the operating room?

Inge Matthiesen
: In medicine, the body's own fat has already been used for the past ten years, at first just in plastic surgery to achieve aesthetic changes. At this point however, it is also being used for breast reconstruction following mastectomy for cancer for instance. It is possible to reconstruct the entire breast with the body's own fat tissue, achieving aesthetically very appealing results. What stood out here was that the transplanted tissue survived in almost 80 percent of cases in the recipient tissue and there were barely any complications after this type of autologous fat graft transplantation. What is more, scars looked better after radiation - and we did not really know why that is. This is why we looked into the special characteristics of autologous fat and how it can be used in medicine.

In doing so, researchers found out that adipose tissue contains many multipotent stem cells, approximately 500 times more than bone marrow. From then on, it was considered for various applications, because it is so versatile. It can for instance help to seal chronic, non-healing wounds and ulcers, for example with patients that could until then not be helped with traditional methods. Patients suffering from diabetic food syndrome in particular often still need to face amputation of the affected foot. However, if you inject adipose tissue, so-called lipoaspirate around and under the wound, it can seal again. Another application area is the treatment of scars after accidents, burns or surgery as well as the use in arthropathies.
Photo: Liposuction; Copyright: panthermedia.net/lienkie

Liposuction in the OR; ©panthermedia.net/ lienkie

Are there studies that document this success for the different disease patterns?

: We conduct our own studies and there are already several publications on this subject. The European clinical study ADIPOA, in which the University Hospital Würzburg was a part of and new data from the Czech Republic and Poland show the positive use of stem cells for knee and hip joint diseases. In a treatment study by the Department of Plastic Surgery at the Sana Clinical Center Hameln-Pyrmont, Dr. Christian Herold reports that patients had adipose tissue injected into the saddle joint of the thumb - with great success. This was still unimaginable a few short years ago.

The newly developed device you are currently collaborating on with Prof. Hermann Seitz of the University of Rostock is designed to work with water jet technology. How does this work and what else can the device do?

: We develop devices for the intraoperative retrieval of vital adipose and stem cells. In the process, multipotent stem cells in adipose tissue are being isolated and concentrated. The foundation for this device development is the use of already authorized systems for water-jet assisted liposuction. The stainless steel needle used in this method directs a fan-shaped jet into the tissue to gently loosen it. Unharmed adipose cells can subsequently be extracted. However, the retrieved cell clusters must not be bigger than one millimeter, otherwise they may necrotize after transplantation. This is why the device also ensures that size is not exceeded.

Grafik: Hollow needle in fat tissue; Copyright: human med AG

Adipose tissue is loosened with a fan-shaped jet and then gently removed; ©human med AG

How are the cells being prepared in the device?

: The adipose tissue is extracted, washed, filtered and concentrated in a closed system, so that it is available for immediate reinjection. Unlike traditional devices that are able to achieve similar results, this newly developed device is going to be significantly smaller. The goal here are suction amounts from 10 to 100 milliliters. Conventional devices for water-jet assisted liposuction can remove up to ten liters, which means they are oversized for this process. During the next step, the stem cells are being isolated during surgery in a new procedure. The physician can then remove the stem cells in a sterile manner after approximately thirty minutes.

As already mentioned, there are different devices that can suction off fat. Why is there a need for this technical revision?

: The point is not to damage the adipose and stem cells during the extraction process. Adipose cells are highly sensitive and can easily be destroyed. This is why we need to develop a device that on the one hand is able to remove adipose tissue in a very gentle manner and on the other hand prepares it, so that it can be reinjected using other suitable devices. What's more, we would like to be able to isolate the stem cells intraoperatively, so they can be used for other treatment methods, for instance to treat osteoarthritis. This is still a little ways off, but there are already several other interesting treatment options on the horizon.
Photo: Simone Ernst; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

The interview was conducted by Simone Ernst and translated from German by Elena O'Meara.