We’ve all heard about the potential applications of stem cell research in growing new cells to treat diseases, but did you ever think that that same technology could be applied to something as superficial as treating the wrinkles on the sides of your nose?
The FDA has recently approved a cosmetic treatment that does just that. Known as LaViv, the procedure has been featured in the July issue of Vogue for being the first to use patients’ own skin cells to create a personalized facial filler. Like popular fillers Restylane and Juvederm, it is injected directly into the face; however, instead of a factory-made synthetic, LaViv is organic and cell-based. Although the LaViv treatment has only been FDA-approved to treat the unpleasantly-named nasolabial folds (the technical term for frown lines that run from each side of the nose to the corner of the mouth), in the future it might also be used to treat other fine lines and wrinkles on the face, and even acne or burn scars.
Using patients’ own bodies as a source of materials for cosmetic procedures is nothing new. Skin grafts have been used for hundreds of years to reconstruct and repair skin damaged from burns or injuries. In recent years, patients have made use of fat transfers to inject their own fat into other areas of their body in order to augment breasts, buttocks, and even lips.
What makes LaViv unique is that patients’ tissues aren’t just being moved from one place to another. Instead, doctors are extracting the most beneficial of the cells, multiplying it in quantities the body wouldn’t normally be able to generate on its own, and then injecting it into the face for maximum results.
How LaViv Is Performed
To start, doctors perform a biopsy and remove a small sample from the skin behind the patient’s ear. This sample is sent to a lab, where it is assigned a unique patient ID number. Then, cells known as fibroblasts are isolated from the rest of the sample. A type of stem cell, fibroblasts are responsible for giving the skin firmness and elasticity because they eventually mature into connective tissue fibers like collagen and elastin, providing strength and support.
The extracted fibroblasts are then grown in the lab in a purified and vitamin-enriched setting. In three months, the fibroblasts will have multiplied hundreds of millions of times and become a sufficient quantity to be used as a dermal filler. Once the lab confirms they are sterile and potent, a couple of vials of the cells can be sent to the doctor’s office to be injected into the patient’s face. As the entire procedure requires three treatments set 3 to 6 weeks apart, the rest is stored in the lab by freezing.
How Much Does LaViv Cost?
A spokesperson for LaViv’s development company, FibroCell, has put price points at about $1000 to $2000 for developing the cell bank in the lab, and $300 to $500 for each treatment session. Although I’d probably prefer to be injected with cells from my own body than with a synthetic filler like Restylane, LaViv does seem rather pricey, considering Restylane costs only around $500 per injection. However, there are other factors to take into account. Traditional fillers last around 6 to 10 months, while LaViv lasts for years – two at the least. But while other fillers offer instant results, LaViv can take three to four months to show improvements. In the end, it really is like comparing apples to oranges.
The Results Of LaViv Trials
LaViv has shown promise in clinical trials, though the extent of the results depends on who you ask. 45 to 57% of patients who underwent the treatment said they could see a significant improvement after six months. Their doctors, however, only saw significant improvements in 33% of their patients. Nevertheless, these same doctors also only saw improvements in 19% of the control group, who had been injected with a different type of dermal filler, so it is safe to say LaViv did perform better.
A full two-thirds of the clinical trial patients experienced side effects – redness, bruising, swelling, pain, etc. These side effects are reactions to the injection site, such as those that would be experienced with any other injected filler, and so are not specific to LaViv.
It’s too early to tell how LaViv will factor in to the cosmetic procedures industry, especially as FibroCell has had financial troubles in the past and is now struggling to find funding for marketing. It’s possible LaViv will prove to just be another “revolutionary” procedure that falls flat so fast it hardly warrants a mention. But it’s also possible LaViv will bring about a new generation of dermal fillers, leaving Restylane and Juvederm as obsolete as the cassette tape player. At this point, it really could go either way.