Sculpting The Body With Recycled Fat Some plastic surgeons have adopted the controversial technique of transferring unwanted fat from the belly, hips and thighs of patients to the breasts and other areas. But others question not only the effectiveness of this procedure, but also its safety.
NPR logo

Sculpting The Body With Recycled Fat

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sculpting The Body With Recycled Fat

Sculpting The Body With Recycled Fat

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. In Your Health today, we'll report on two ways to improve what nature gave you. In a moment, we'll hear about risky silicone injections for wrinkles. First, a cosmetic surgery technique to transfer fat from one part of the body to another. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY: If you've never thought of body fat as a precious resource, well, it's likely you've never met surgeon David Broadway. He's an early adopter of a technique that aims to redistribute fat. Think of it as the Robin Hood approach to plastic surgery, taking from the fat-rich parts of the body and giving to the poor, or the just modestly endowed.

Dr. DAVID BROADWAY (Plastic Surgeon): Well, I've been doing fat transfer to multiple areas for quite some time. We've been using it in combination with a liposuction technique that we've described as high-definition liposuction. And rather than simply discard the fat, we'll take that fat and inject it into the breast area.

AUBREY: This quick-fix concept may have a made-in-America ring to it, but it turns out most early pioneers are in Japan and Europe. And what they've learned is that recycling fat is no simple task. The process of extracting it from the body can damage the fat. And once it's injected back in it doesn't always get the blood supply it needs, so some of the fat doesn't survive.

Dr. BROADWAY: Well, usually we'll get about 40 to 80 percent of the fat to take.

AUBREY: It's a big variable there, 40 to 80...

Dr. BROADWAY: It is a variable. That's one of the disadvantages. You're not entirely sure what the end result will be.

AUBREY: Patient Christina Stone opted for the surgery two years ago. She says she wanted larger breasts, but she'd been hesitant about implants.

Ms. CHRISTINA STONE: I knew going in that there was no guarantee, but I was very interested in the fact I wasn't going to have, you know, silicone or anything in my body.

AUBREY: The plan was to take fat from her thighs and abdomen and inject a lot of it, more than she needed, into her breasts, knowing that some of it wouldn't take.

Ms. STONE: They had warned me, you know, when you wake up, don't be shocked, because they're going to be a lot bigger than you want them to be.

AUBREY: But she says the moment the anesthesia wore off, her expectations of adding two cups to her bra size were dashed.

Ms. STONE: So immediately, I looked down and I didn't see any difference. I mean, a little.

AUBREY: That must've been really disappointing for you.

Ms. STONE: It was. You know, I was pretty, you know, sad about it.

AUBREY: Stone later had a second surgery to get implants, and she says she's happy with the results. But her surgeon, Dr. Scott Spear, says he wants to know more. He explains until recently fat transfers were mainly performed as reconstructive surgeries - for instance, in breast cancer patients after a mastectomy.

Dr. SCOTT SPEAR (Plastic Surgeon): In the reconstruction patients, I think it's pretty well agreed it has real value. But for pure breast enlargement, I think we're just at the beginning of the learning curve on that.

AUBREY: Spear is heading up a clinical trial to help answer some questions, such as: What's the best way to perform the procedure, and what are the risks? One concern has been calcifications in the breast tissue that appear after the procedure, which could make it harder to detect breast cancer if a woman were to develop it down the line. And another question is: Could putting fat into the breast stimulate development of disease?

Dr. JOHN MILLARD (Surgeon): There's always been a question with regard to fat in the female breast. And, you know, it's unanswered.

AUBREY: That's surgeon John Millard of Lone Tree, Colorado. He says clinical trials will be helpful. For now, he says, he's very comfortable with the results he's seeing using fat transfers to resculpt many other parts of the body. For instance, he's pioneered a technique to beef up men's pecs by injecting fat right into these chest muscles.

Dr. MILLARD: I like to describe the augmentation of the male pectoralis. We're taking a piece of filet mignon and sort of turning it into Kobe beef. We're actually putting fat into the muscle.

AUBREY: And according to Millard's patient Brad Hamilton, who's had the procedure, it works.

Mr. BRAD HAMILTON: You know, it looks like you've been working out for years.

AUBREY: I guess to me, I'm confused by that because I think about shooting fat into the muscle, you'd think that you'd get sort of a fatty look up top. But what you're saying is you look more muscular.

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah, it actually defines and enhances your muscle.

AUBREY: Hamilton says he knows it's early days for these procedures. There are no long-term studies and no guarantees that the results will last. But he says at 45, as gravity pulls, he's pushing back.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.