Gurus and wise leaders often tell us that the “answer lies within you.” Well, one of the biggest medical breakthroughs may turn out to confirm this. You see, Mother Nature gifted us with our own adult stem cells that optimally promote healing. On top of that, she also placed a huge quantity of these cells in our fat tissue. Taking advantage of that to improve patient medical care are doctors Elliot Lander and Mark Berman, the founders of the Cell Surgical Network (CSN) and two of the world’s pioneers in Stem Cell Therapy. While their practice has had major positive impacts on people’s health, like any big paradigm shift they’ve stirred the attention of naysayers as well as found themselves named in a landmark FDA lawsuit. The FDA claims that our own isolated cells are equivalent to a drug requiring regulation has these renown doctors fighting for our rights to use our own cells for our own health purposes.
In order to isolate your stem cells, they surgically remove some of your fat to isolate SVF (stromal vascular fraction) cells from the fat. These cells contain red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, growth factors and a whole bunch of your own stem cells. Everything in SVF is already in your blood but now the doctors can add back large quantities of stem cells too. This is not to be confused with PRP (platelet rich plasma) that’s been used for a variety of conditions including the well-known Vampire Facial. PRP, a product from blood, does not have any significant number of stem cells.
Stem cells may be one of the biggest medical breakthroughs of our time. As a blank slate of your DNA, your stem cells can not only replicate and differentiate (turn into another specialized cell) to replace dead cells, they can provide missing particles necessary to repair injured cells. These smart cells, when deployed, pick up signals from injured cells and head their way to make repairs. They provide the key to how our bodies heal and regenerate, how organs maintain healthy function and how we defend ourselves from disease. As the numbers of stem cells in our organs or our bloodstream decrease with time, and natural cell death goes unrepaired, we see the effects of aging. But guess what? We have an abundant amount of stem cells trapped in our fat and now we can safely and simply get to it, have the cells isolated and deployed within a 2-hour outpatient procedure.
Dr. Mark Berman is a world renown plastic surgeon and well-known as one of the leading pioneers in the area of Fat Transfer as we know it today. From this success with facial rejuvenation comes the understanding of how stem cells can not only help us heal but may also help us to live longer in good health. While drugs are known as products that can “cure, treat, diagnose, mitigate or prevent” disease, our cells are critical for healing – something no drug or surgery can accomplish. Even today, most of the medical community has not come to terms with this distinction.
For this reason, the team of Drs. Mark Berman, Elliot Lander, and Dan Olesnicky remain focused on keeping the procedure available to the public. While they do not consider this technology experimental (these cells have been in our body before medicine was invented), because it’s a new technology to most physicians, they realize that until enough data is gathered it’s still investigational. Over 76% of all patients have had good, long lasting positive results. And, that number goes higher the closer you get to early treatment.
I decided to visit their offices in Rancho Mirage, Ca. known as home to the California Stem Cell Treatment Center for an exclusive interview with these medical pioneers to learn more about stem cells, bust some myths and find out about the controversial nature of their practice.
Robyn Newmark: Dr. Berman, you have been the president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. You helped pioneer the California Stem Cell Treatment Center and the Cell Surgical Network. You’re known worldwide as one of the pioneers of modern fat transfer and have been a top doctor in multiple publications, have authored or co-authored a number of medical papers and medical book chapters as well as written or co-written two books. How did what you call “the stem cell revolution” start for you?
Dr. Mark Berman
I’ve been doing fat graft procedures since the late 80’s, yet people always wonder how come a plastic or cosmetic surgeon is involved with stem cells. They suggested it was out of my specialty and could be dangerous. Yet, once we realized we could isolate stem cells from fat we also learned that we had been inadvertently separating stem cells from fat during liposuction and fat transfer procedures for over 30 years. So, without realizing it we had subjected our patients to “free stem cell” transfers without any apparent problems during all of this time. But we had been interested in providing patients fat to restore natural contours in their faces. Fat could be grown in a jar, but when injected under the skin as pure fat cells, none of it would survive. It turned out that the missing ingredient were the stem cells associated with the natural fat. By adding SVF or even isolated stem cells to fat, we found that we could enhance the ability of the fat cells to survive.
The early work with stem cells was directed at isolating SVF and adding it back to fat, a procedure called “cell assisted lipotransfer” or the CAL procedure. In April 2010 I had the opportunity to lead a group of doctors to Japan to observe two of their leading plastic surgeons using the CAL procedure for breast augmentation. I watched as the doctors suctioned several hundred ccs of fat, converted much of it into SVF to fortify the remaining fat, and then injected it into the breasts to make them a cup size larger. It struck me that this was a tremendous waste of stem cells. Eventually, I discussed this with Elliot and we decided we could do something bigger with this technology than just aesthetic surgery.
Robyn Newmark: Dr. Lander I know that you have treated so many people including former President Gerald Ford. You were the head of urology at Eisenhower Medical Center, the Head of Surgery at John F. Kennedy Hospital and are the Co-founder of the Cell Surgical Network and the California Stem Cell Treatment Center.
When Dr. Berman came to you about his ideas for stem cells, what were your thoughts?
Dr. Elliot Lander:
There was a group in 2001 at UCLA, they understood that there’s stem cells in fat. They started talking about it having some regenerative powers. There was a lot of basic science research done, but nobody was really using it in any meaningful way. Mark comes back from Japan saying, “I got stem cells”. I said, What the hell are you talking about? What do you mean? He says, “Well, they’re using it for breast augmentation.” We both looked at each other and said “forget cosmetics, let’s start treating sick people!”
What are you able to treat with stem cells?
Dr. Elliot Lander:
Well, to start you can really help fix people. Think of all of the illnesses associated with cellular damage that we have. If you reduce human disease, trauma, degeneration, aging, everything reduces down to cellular damage. If you can mitigate someone’s cellular damage, which is what stem cells do, then you might be able to impact their health and change the course of diseases.
Where did you start? What types of conditions did you first start treating?
We started by working with Dr. Tom Grogan, an Orthopedic surgeon in LA and tested several joint arthritis cases. While we still work with Tom and other orthopedic surgeons, it was Elliot who really started looking at more conditions and created the business side of what we do today. From there we started working with urology, cardiology and neurodegenerative conditions. The process we use to surgically isolate the cells stems from an invention of our colleague Dr. Lee Hee Young from South Korea. He’s remained one of our good friends and close colleagues. I call him the Tony Stark (from the Ironman movie) of medicine. He’s come up with some cool technology.
Can you give us an example of how stem cells “heal” as a distinction from what other cells do.
Dr. Mark Berman:
The stem cell is basically a blank slate of your DNA. It hasn’t yet become a specialized functional cell. As such, it’s the optimal cell for healing. But we have far more white blood cells (WBCs) in circulation, so they most often contribute to healing. When you are injured, the WBCs will be signaled to the target area, try to clean up debris or bacteria and recruit fibroblasts to fix the injury with resulting scar tissue. This may be acceptable for basic tissue injuries of the skin or muscles, but it’s not an ideal functional repair. For example, if you had a heart attack, that would result in some dead heart muscle and ultimately a scar in place of previously functional heart muscle cells. If the scar is big enough, heart failure can develop. But, if you could get stem cells to such an injury, you could potentially repair it with normal functional tissue and retain a strong healthy heart. We’ve been criticized for saying these cells are like “magic” but compared to current medical treatments, it really is.
Robyn Newmark: So if there are so many Stem cells in our fat then how come our bodies don’t use it on its own?
Dr. Elliot Lander: Because they are simply trapped in our collagen matrix. They need to be collected and redistributed where they are needed.
Robyn Newmark: Why do you choose to use adipose cells over bone marrow and some of the other methods of cell harvesting?
Dr. Eliot Lander:
First of all, the bone marrow procedure is a more invasive surgery compared to the adipose procedure. With the bone marrow harvest we have to drill into the large pelvic bone. Also the bone marrow cells lose potency as we age compared to the fat derived stem cells.
A fat harvest is a very easy treatment using localized numbing agents and is like having a mini liposuction treatment. You are slightly swollen and bruised but resume to normal life right away. The entire procedure can be done as an outpatient treatment. Most patients come for their surgery, go to lunch and come back in 2 hours for their injections. Stem cells are an easy lunch time procedure and many people spend more on a car or a luxury vacation. Instead they could choose to invest in their life long health and vitality.
So we need a paradigm shift here.The amazing thing is what we’re doing is not a miracle in any way. It is not magic by dumb luck. We figured out that there’s stem cells trapped in our fat. They literally can’t mobilize to damaged areas because they’re trapped there, but they’re trapped at five hundred times the number compared to bone marrow and if we just free them up surgically, then they can help us heal anywhere in the body.
Robyn Newmark: So, why is the treatment so controversial? You have taken the arrows in the back from your medical community, are named in an FDA trial complaint on stem cells and have been libeled in other publications – why?
Dr. Mark Berman:
Whenever you do something early on it’s often met with resistance. When I started fat grafting for facial rejuvenation most of the plastic surgical community thought it wouldn’t work or was a departure from lifting procedures. When we started using stem cells from fat, as early adopters we experienced ridicule but overcame that as our network grew and others recapitulated our work. Ultimately, the FDA saw us as a big target that either threatened their authority or threatened some aspect of the pharmaceutical industry.
Dr. Elliot Lander: “I think there are also still those out there with special financial interests who just want to paint us as “bad doctors using some mysterious cells”. It’s a narrative for those who simply work against good doctors who are using your own power of healing. I’m hoping things keep progressing and we are able to continue this for the sake of humanity. Our own cells have the most incredible healing power and we have the right to them. As Doctors we want to make sure that is always available to people.
What happens after you harvest the stem cells? You send them to a stem bank?
Dr. Elliot Lander: We use the cells fresh in the operating room but we can also arrange to have some stored and frozen in a tissue bank for future use.
Robyn Newmark: How expensive is something like that?
Dr. Mark Berman: After the initial account is set up, it’s only a few hundred dollars a year to keep them stored. Then, depending upon how technical it is to deploy – is it a simple intravenous infusion, or it requires a special type of injection with fluoroscopy or CT scans – it may run from around $750 to $2-3,000. I’m sure prices will adapt to the market as the technology becomes more available. Considering what some people spend on things like Botox, I’d say this is well worth it.
Robyn Newmark: So, what is next for the future?
Dr. Mark Berman: We want people to know that the healing power of your own cells is safer, cheaper and more effective than most of the drugs used to treat disease. Elliot and I became doctors to help heal people. Although this is not a miracle cure, our stem cells are an essential part of extending our health and appearance. I know we would like to see more families choose to bank their stem cells for overall health, prevention, and treatment of conditions. As we gather more and more data, we will publish more papers and we will see this area of personal cell therapy expand to all aspects of healthcare.
The next time you consider a good bank to invest in, consider taking yourself to the stem bank! It will be the best investment you will ever make with immediate payoffs and long term security.
For the cost of a luxury vacation and a long lunch hour you could have a lifetime of bio insurance! A storehouse of your own cells available to you at any time. The Benefits are endless. Stem cells assist in the regeneration of all other cells. They are used to treat everything from terminal health conditions to bones, joints and spines. It helps maintain male and female vitality, diabetes, lymes disease, even mental health conditions Not to mention a variety of anti aging uses for skin and hair regeneration. The answer to your health and longevity is you!
For more on the California Stem Cell Treatment Center go to: