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Stem Cells and Growth Factors: What You Should Know

Ben Johnson, MD April 2014 issue of Skin Inc. magazine
Stem Cells and Growth Factors: What You Should Know

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The use of stem cells in skin care and esthetic medicine has generated a lot of excitement. However, there remains a great deal of confusion about the differences between growth factors, stem cells, plant stem cells and other related technologies. This article will discuss the pros and cons of one of the most exciting technological advancements in skin care.

Plant stem cells

Many companies offer plant stem cells, but they are not like human stem cells and do not provide any of the benefits of human stem cells. Plant stem cells appear to provide some modest improvements in the skin, but they are primarily formulated in conjunction with other actives or peptides because they are not very active themselves. Often, they are a plant extract and offer a similarly modest impact on the skin. They are not making growth factors or activating wound-healing the way stem cell technology does.

Human stem cells

Human stem cells are primarily being harvested from adults and have, therefore, become less controversial than in the past. Although they have potential in fat injections and face-lifts to offer more stable tissue replacement, they are otherwise not part of skin care as you know it. Instead, stem cells are being induced to make fibroblasts by implanting fibroblast DNA into a ghost cell. This is known as induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS). Stem cells can also be encouraged to grow skin-targeted growth factors by leaving them in the same growth media as a fibroblast. Let’s be clear: If you are simply using stem cells, the growth factors that might be made—and there’s no guarantee a cell will make growth factors—are less likely to be skin-specific. Some labs are harvesting stem cells from certain locations on the body to help with that issue, but that is a relatively new approach and does not apply to products on the market today. The gold standard is still to use fibroblasts harvested from circumcised infant skin. All cells are grown in an environment that is typically called “growth media.” It is the concentration of growth factors in the growth media, their stability, their delivery system and the amount of growth media used, that ultimately determine how effective a product can be. Those are the key areas to examine if you are trying to decide which product is best for your clients.

Growth factors

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