Spinning Fat Into Gold

Sharon Begley has a Wired cover story on "tissue engineering," a technology being primed for use in breast enlargement. Irin Carmon explains the process:

Doctors experimented with injecting liposuctioned fat directly into other parts of women's bodies in the 80s and 90s, but the effect would be temporary as the body gradually absorbed that fat. According to Wired's Sharon Begley, it was a female post-doc, Min Zhu, who made the key discovery that if you use blood as feeder cells, you could get adipose tissue to differentiate into bone and cartilage, muscle, or neuron.

That was in 2001, and since then, a plastic surgeon and a medical device maker teamed up to create the Celution, a sort of magic box that centrifuges fat cells and readies them to be injected back into the body in pearl-like droplets. "Within 48 hours, new capillaries and blood vessels entwine through the injected cells, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the now-stable tissue," according to Wired.

The technology is about more than big breasts:

It makes sense to apply Cytori’s technology to enhance breasts instead of, say, repair urinary sphincters as a strategic way to move the patented technology out of rats and into people as soon as possible. Hearts, kidneys, and even sphincters have to work in order for us to survive. But we can live just fine without breast tissue, and, outside of feeding offspring, breasts don’t have to do much. The fact is, the scientific and regulatory hurdles to getting Cytori’s cells into clinical use will be easier to clear for breasts than for other tissue: Breasts simply aren’t as necessary as other organs, so the bar for proving to regulators that the technology works will be lower.