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    Behind the hype in stem cell therapy

    True therapeutic application of stem cells in dermatology is a tapestry of hope, promising early studies and false claims. While stem cells are showing promise in areas such as wound healing and in the treatment of skin fragility from epidermolysis bullosa, their use in heavily promoted topical antiaging preparations is, by our experts’ accounts, nowhere near ready for prime time.

    Roy G. Geronemus, M.D.Dr. GeronemusRoy G. Geronemus, M.D., chairman of the board of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, the largest stem cell research program in the country, says he strongly believes in the present and future of the clinical use of stem cells.

    “I do, however, urge caution and restraint in reference to the commercial claims regarding the potential efficacy of stem cells in dermatology at this point in time. As for cosmetic dermatology, it has been well proven that adipose tissue is a rich source of stem cells, and this likely explains the sustained benefit seen with fat transfer for volume replacement. Blood or plasma are also sources of stem cells leading to potential benefit of [platelet-rich plasma] PRP in cosmetic dermatology for rejuvenation and healing, although well controlled studies are needed to establish efficacy. Data on the use of stem cells applied topically in commercial creams is minimal, and its benefit has not yet established.”

    The field of dermatology, Dr. Geronemus says, will likely benefit from research underway with Induced pluripotent stem cells, also known as iPScells or iPSCs.

    “These cells (taken from skin biopsies) can be grown and differentiated into almost any disease and subsequently used to evaluate the potential efficacy of new drugs and also used to predict drug toxicity,” Dr. Geronemus says.

    Lots of hype, little substance for stem cells in topicals

    “Stem cells don’t work in topical antiaging creams and treatments,” is the headline in a recent Miami Herald column,1 by Miami, Fla.-based dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D., CEO of Baumann Cosmetic and Research Institute. Dr. Baumann runs Skin Type Solutions Franchise Systems LLC, a dermatologist-developed resource that provides skin care education for dermatologists, their patients and their staff.

    “It makes me sad when I see a dermatologist promoting stem cell products, because we need to be the expert resource on skincare that our patients can trust,” Dr. Baumann tells Dermatology Times. “I posted my newspaper column … and asked dermatologists to tell me if they agreed with it. About 60 of them said yes and none said no. That tells me that most dermatologists—or at least the ones that are my Facebook friends—understand that stem cells in topical products are worthless.”

    Plant-based stem cells are simply too large to penetrate the skin and cannot live in the cream while it stays on the shelf for months or even years, Dr. Baumann says.

    Richard Hope, M.D.Dr. HopeDermatologist Richard Hope, M.D., of Lubbock Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center, in Lubbock, Texas, agrees.

    “I believe the current use of ‘stem cells’ in topical skincare products is of no value at this point. The ‘stem cells’ are plant derived, dead and basically have no activity in human skin. This is marketing to a poorly informed public,” Dr. Hope says.

    But there is hope, according to Dr. Hope, when one looks beyond manufactured topicals.

     “Human stem cells will likely have an impact on skin rejuvenation and hair restoration. Probably similar to how PRP (protein rich plasma) is used today,” Dr. Hope says. “These will be cosmetic procedures and not likely to be in topical skincare regimens, as the stem cells need to be harvested from the patient, and they do not directly penetrate the epidermis.”

    Read more: Stem cells generate hair growth

    Next: Where the science looks strong

    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is president of Words Come Alive, based in Boca Raton, Florida.

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