For Systemic Sclerosis Manifestations in Face and Hands, Fat and Stromal Vascular Fraction Appears Promising

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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systemic sclerosis treatments

A research team recently proposed that injecting fat and stromal vascular fraction in the face and hands of systemic sclerosis patients can significantly improve their functional capabilities and quality of life. The results were titled “Treating Scleroderma of the face and hands with fat and stromal vascular fraction” and were presented last week at the 4th Systemic Sclerosis World Congress in Lisbon, Portugal.

Scleroderma, also known as systemic sclerosis, is a chronic systemic autoimmune disease characterized by a hardening primarily of the skin, but in the more severe cases, also affecting internal organs. The disease is designated as limited scleroderma when it mainly affects the hands, arms, and face; when the disease progresses to other large areas of the skin and reaches internal organs, more frequently kidneys, esophagus, heart and lungs, it is called diffuse scleroderma.

A team of researchers at the Université Aix-Marseille in Marseille, France, presented results from a study that began in 2009 where systemic sclerosis patients were treated with fat and stromal vascular fraction — a component of the lipoaspirate obtained from liposuction of excess adipose tissue that contains mostly stem cells and growth factors. The growth factors are very important signaling molecules that can turn on and off inflammation and cause cells to grow or die.

In total, 14 patients were treated via micro-injection of 16 to 22 cc of fat, and 12 patients’ hands were treated with the stromal vascular fraction. Both procedures, face and hands, were performed with local anesthesia.

The team reported that a continuous improvement was observed in the face of systemic sclerosis patients, primarily a reduction of pain in the temporomandibular joint — which connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear — softening of tissues, and improvement of buccal aperture. The results were observed with one injection, but some patients received a second injection after two years of the first treatment. Patients’ hands showed a fast improvement with vascularization of fingers, which allowed an improvement in function, and as a consequence, a noticeable improvement in quality of life.

The results led the team to suggest that fat and stromal vascular fraction injections (a minimally invasive procedure) are an efficient treatment strategy for systemic sclerosis patients, particularly in patients’ hands where researchers observed a clear improvement in everyday life activities. The findings prompted the start of two clinical trials, currently ongoing in France and the United States.