In 2001, President George W. Bush’s administration restricted federal funding for research on stem cells obtained by human embryos. The medical practice was relatively unknown at the time, and it was characterized as “playing God” with the most customizable cells in the body.
When the ban was lifted in 2009, it was like opening Pandora’s Box, with exciting new research initiatives and treatments for injuries, vision problems, and of course cancer. Even NFL stars like Peyton Manning jumped on the bandwagon, traveling to Europe to receive localized injections. Still, with all that progress, the “biggest” missed opportunity of all is just reaching fruition in America: Stem-cell breast augmentation. The next great leap forward in Franken-Boobs.
Now that I have your attention—and our search engine optimization algorithm ensures me that I do—let’s quickly cover the basics of stem-cell science. It’ll help you appreciate the final product, I promise.
A stem cell is an undifferentiated cell. Think of stem cells like lego pieces. Given the right command, they can be transformed into anything. If that explanation isn’t nerdy enough for you, think of them as Rogue from X-men, the only X-men that can adopt any mutant’s power by touching them. If that’s somehow not nerdy enough for you, think of them like hydrogen, one of the universe’s first elements that becomes all of the other elements when it’s exploded inside the gravity of a dying star. That’s what stem cells are like.
Ok, back to Franken-Boobs. There used to be two popular options, now there are three:
- A quick nip tuck with silicon saline or cohesive silicone implant.
- A fat transfer involving liposuction from an area like the stomach or butt into the breasts.
- Concentrated stem cells from the stomach or butt injected directly into the breasts, where they can grow the breast between .5 and 2 cup sizes, depending on the concentration of cells
Implants (1) are dangerous and fat transfer (2) has limited effectiveness. Stem-cell treatments address both of those concerns. They are, however, more expensive by two or three-fold, depending on which highly-reputable doctor you choose; the procedure hovers somewhere between $6K and $10K.
People are already chucking up the extra dough. It has been done in Japan for a decade and it’s currently undergoing trials in the UK. In America, several plastic surgeons are dipping their toes by doing “fat transfer” procedures with concentrated levels of stem cells. I looked into some offices in Charlotte, Miami (one of which allows you to review images of procedure results), and Las Vegas that were beginning to advertise differing amounts of stem cells; apparently they determine the cell volumes on a case by case basis.
Not everyone’s happy though. For instance, The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) say that stem-cell breast augmentation procedures are unproven and should not be offered commercially. Has that ever stopped us before!?
Despite being more successful than typical fat transfer, stem-cell transfer is still limited to a few cup sizes of leeway. The science may improve to allow more growth, but while people learn to use their new powers, a cap at 1-2 cup sizes probably isn’t the worst thing. It’s like a 2-drink maximum at a bar. With an estimated 1 to 2.5 percent of the population suffering from body dysmorphia—or a pathological preoccupation with an imagined physical defect—a little forced moderation can’t hurt. We don’t want to be known as the generation that brought sexy back with with back pain.
But the other 98% of us who don’t have a DSM-5 classification may not be happy with our bodies either. When I was growing up, I had what are known scientifically as, “man boobs.” I would have gladly donated them to one of my flat-chested female friends, but the science wasn’t “there” yet. Instead, I took shady hormones that I ordered off the internet. They completely destroyed my sex drive for a year. I didn’t care. My man boobs fit right back into the normal distribution again and I could stop thinking about them when I took my shirt off.
I took chemicals to fix one square inch of my body. I’ve always taken this anecdote to be my best evidence that human beings are strange, desperate conformists that sometimes need to take drastic measures to feel socially acceptable. And that’s OKAY. I think.
At least it’s “more ok” than the options we have now. Silicon breast implants can often look like water balloons in high velocity mid-flight. They’re also sacks of poison on which people put pressure on a regular basis. They seem like a bad idea, just like taking shady chemicals off of the internet was a bad idea. When can I write an article about stem cells reversing boob size? Where were you when I needed you, science??
For early adopters, stem-cell breasts are available to anyone with $7,000 sitting around. For the cautious, it might be a good idea to let the technology sit in the oven a little longer. We still don’t know what the procedure looks like after a decade or two of “wear and tear.” We can all blame one guy for that:
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