Woman gets stem-cell "wrinkle treatment," grows extra bones in her eye-socket

A woman who had a $20,000 stem-cell "enhanced" facelift at a posh Beverley Hills clinic experienced a bony clicking sound and excruciating pain every time she opened or shut her right eye. The bony clicking sounds turned out to be bones.

About three months earlier the woman had opted for a relatively new kind of cosmetic procedure at a different clinic in Beverly Hills—a face-lift that made use of her own adult stem cells. First, cosmetic surgeons had removed some the woman's abdominal fat with liposuction and isolated the adult stem cells within—a family of cells that can make many copies of themselves in an immature state and can develop into several different kinds of mature tissue. In this case the doctors extracted mesenchymal stem cells—which can turn into bone, cartilage or fat, among other tissues—and injected those cells back into her face, especially around her eyes. The procedure cost her more than $20,000, Wu recollects. Such face-lifts supposedly rejuvenate the skin because stem cells turn into brand-new tissue and release chemicals that help heal aging cells and stimulate nearby cells to proliferate.

During the face-lift her clinicians had also injected some dermal filler, which plastic surgeons have safely used for more than 20 years to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. The principal component of such fillers is calcium hydroxylapatite, a mineral with which cell biologists encourage mesenchymal stem cells to turn into bone—a fact that escaped the woman's clinicians. Wu thinks this unanticipated interaction explains her predicament. He successfully removed the pieces of bone from her eyelid in 2009 and says she is doing well today, but some living stem cells may linger in her face. These cells could turn into bone or other out-of-place tissues once again.

In the Flesh: The Embedded Dangers of Untested Stem Cell Cosmetics [Ferris Jabr/Scientific American] (via JWZ)


  1. Dear Everyone,

    Please remember that we already have doctors who specialize in cases of a little too much ‘cellular rejuvenation’. We call them “Oncologists”…

  2. The most famous early adopter was likely Rick Perry.  He had some injected in his back to treat his back pain and claimed it was successful. I personally suspect his entertaining debate performance could be partly explained by either untreated pain, drugs used to treat it, or perhaps lack of sleep from pain.  He may have said it was resolved so it wouldn’t be a political issue.  Though with this news story, maybe he grew a small vestigial twin who was feeding him dumb answers.

  3. We are supposed to notice these disasters, right? I mean the whole point here is to look expensively awesome so that everyone knows you have enough money to afford to do this.

    It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

    1. A vast number of people are also having the most toxic natural poison known to man (botulism toxin) injected into their faces to prevent wrinkles. Nobody knows what the long term consequences are, but it is perfectly legal. On the other hand, the medical establishment is so certain that marijuana is devastatingly horrific (despite being in constant use for thousands of years) that you can be jailed for absurd lengths of time for smoking it. Thank you, quacks.

      1. Hey, what’s the worst thing that could happen from a little neurotoxin being injected less than an inch from the brain now and then?

      2. I’ve noticed one superficial semi-long term consequence, and that is muscle wasting. Women who have now been getting injections for years tend to need fillers to replace the look of natural tissue in their face. The scary part is girls are now getting botox because it keeps you from ever making wrinkles. While that is true, there’s a reason meth addicts tend to look older (and sick people, people with certain types of cancer, and anyone else who experiences muscle wasting away). The skin may not be wrinkled but the appearance is sunken and unattractive. Instinctively people know it as a sign of poor health. It becomes a cycle and by my age some people I’ve seen look “not their age” but also “not entirely human” anymore between frozen brows and a bizarre lack of naso-labial fold.

        I’m watching the deep lines come in by the side of my mouth while I wonder what is going to become of my life and whether this will matter or not. But I’m kind of glad I opted not to get on that particular hamster wheel.

      3. You may have your facts mixed up. Weed wasn’t, and isn’t, outlawed because of the medical establishment, it was outlawed for political purposes. The universities and hospitals, specialists and GPs which make up the ‘medical establishment’ do not have the kind of political power you think they do. Governmental health branches live low down on the political feeding chain generally, hence the tendency for funding cuts.

        The best evidence we have does suggest weed can be harmful – both due to the smoking itself, and more intrinsically in the form of developmental effects. How long it has been used for is irrelevant, tobacco has been used for thousands of years as well.

  4. I like to think that something interesting might come of this some day soon.  Now we know of this utterly bizarre effect that would probably never have been discovered otherwise, because who could afford to fund extensive clinical trials for a $20K procedure?

  5. “made your fortune”

    Yeah, the “we built it,” argument doesn’t go very far for me. BTW, we do tell the welfare recipients what to do, ie “get a job”, “stop having kids”, “get off drugs”, “dress for success”, “go back to school”… etc, etc, etc.

    Fun question, where the hell is the money for any of that catch-22 BS coming from? (Also, as per Florida’s new drug-testing for welfare recipients program shows, big surprise people on welfare by and large can’t do drugs because they can’t fucking afford them!)

    And how exactly was I saying that she is required to do anything else than whatever “she please[s]”? I was simply pointing out that she COULD and would have gotten a better ROI instead of bones in her eyes. So in short don’t tell me what I can and can’t tell other people that they should be doing.

  6. I wish “we” would stop thinking we are so smart that we know what other people should do, while generally being an entire society of loosely networked, violent, self-involved, compassion-lacking monkeys.

    By the way, we do not know that this woman “made” anything. She had 20k to spend (or borrow) and spent it on surgery. Well, I could spend 20k on surgery but that doesn’t make me Paris Hilton. For all we know she’s the ailing 2nd wife of a narcissist tax lawyer and this is her both her escape mechanism and her defense. Look! I can make up stories too!!!

  7. I think you are over-reading here. I never said she owed anybody anything. It was a kindly suggestion and one that would have produced more benefit than she currently is enjoying from her decision to be vain.

  8. Kindly?

    “Serves you right you boney old bag.”

    Some one deserves to have a medical procedure poorly explained, botched, have multiple surgeries to correct, face irreparable damage to their eye, and likely severe pain, and get insulted by sanctimonious you… and you think that’s kindly?

    Well aren’t you the patron saint of irony!

    No, you can take your kindness and share it with people who have an equally distorted view of kindness.

  9. Actually I like that. Get the ultra rich to do crazy off-label testing for us. And if it shuffles them off this mortal coil sooner, that just means their money will probably be spread out to their inheritors. I’m for anything that helps de-concentrate money from the money hoarders voluntarily.

  10. “…facelift at a posh Beverley Hills clinic…”

    You may have a point about her borrowing the money as opposed to earning it herself or the whole 2nd wife bit (isn’t she more than just a wife? Hell with 20K she could have been a philanthropist. Well she is but not the way she intended.) The quote above goes a long way to explain why I made the assumption that this person had money to burn and made a poor choice.

  11. Yeah, I see your point and no those were not the best of words. A fitting punishment that they are the only version that has survived the mods hammer I suppose. In any case, it was meant with a little more playfulness than I gather you are willing to attribute to it. Bones, boney, bag, it all just flowed off the tongue so well at the time.

    “… a medical procedure…” I disagree with your interpretation that this was anything of the sort. This was some grade-A quackery but it’s not exactly like the doctors sought her out specifically either. I can find a back-alley abortionist too but that doesn’t mean it’s the same as the real thing. In this case I suppose it’s possible that she didn’t know the dangers or wasn’t told what the level of risk was; it’s also possible she didn’t care. But we could make up stories all day and it still wouldn’t change the central point I was making that no matter what, this is yet another First World Problem.

    And secondarily a little light-ribbing about it being money well spent that could better have been spent helping poor people, yeah I guess that’s pretty sanctimonious. But you are even better than me on the moral high-ground doesn’t it feel so good to be so right?

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