Findings from a new study of autologous stem cell treatments for sun damage have shown this treatment approach results in a replacement of the sun-damaged elastin structures in the dermis within a few weeks.
In a paper published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (June 2020; 145(6):1037e-1049e), researchers note that while there is clinical evidence that treatment with adipose-derived stem cells can improve the quality of aging skin, the mechanism for this improvement has not been well studied.
In order to investigate the effects of this type of treatment, researchers enrolled 20 individuals (average age 56 years) who were scheduled to undergo face lift surgery. The patients lived in northeast Brazil, a region where intense sun exposure is expected.
Investigators collected fat cells from each patient in order to extract patient-specific mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which were then injected under the skin of the subject’s face, in front of the ear. When the patients underwent facelift surgery three to four months later, skin samples from the stem cell-treated area were compared to untreated areas.
Histologic and structural analysis under the microscope demonstrated that the MSC treatment led to improvement in overall skin structure. In particular, the treated areas showed partial or extensive reversal of sun-related damage to the skin’s elastin network, which the authors note is the main skin structure affected by photoaging.
In the upper dermis, the stem cell-treated areas showed regeneration of a new, fully organized network of fibre bundles and remodelling changes to the dermal extracellular matrix.
In the deeper dermis, tangled, degraded and dysfunctional deposits of sun-damaged elastin were replaced by a normal elastin fiber network. The researchers also observed molecular markers of processes involved in absorbing the abnormal elastin and development of new elastin.
The authors write that their findings suggest that stem cells triggered each of the many cellular- and molecular-level pathways involved in skin repair and regeneration. They write that use of the patient’s own fat-derived MSCs “may be a relevant proposal for the anti-ageing action in regeneration of photodamaged human skin.”
In a video commentary on the research, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Editor-in-Chief Dr. Rod J. Rohrich said of the findings: “The re-building of structures below the surface translates to true improvements to the strength and appearance of the facial dermis.” Dr. Rohrich added that patients interested in stem-cell treatment for aging, sun-damaged skin should discuss their options with a board-certified plastic surgeon.