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Health & Fitness

Hope for patients, cosmetic surgery seekers as stem cell technology takes root in Kenya

Prof Omu Anzala, the Director of Kenya Aids
Prof Omu Anzala, the Director of Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative Institute of Clinical Research. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE 

For close to a decade now, the use of stem cells technology in healthcare has proved a sensation globally as scientists burn the mid-night oil trying to make fresh discoveries.

Back in Kenya, the technology is taking root and those in the cosmetics and regenerative medicine fields are optimistic that it will change the healing process.

The Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative Institute of Clinical Research (KAVI-ICR) at the University of Nairobi has been conducting tests on how the stem cells technology can be used in regenerative medicine.

“It is believed that the new and emerging knowledge in stem cell science and regenerative medicine can be explored to help address the challenges of infectious diseases and curb non communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer in Africa,” Prof Omu Anzala, the Director of KAVI -ICR, said.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells, the source of all other cells and some scientists believe the technology could transform medicine, providing treatment for blindness, juvenile diabetes or severe injuries.

But critics object to the technology because the cells are harvested from human organs.

Regenerative treatment

Stem cells are also used for regenerative treatment of tissue defects and for aesthetic procedures in plastic surgery.

A group of scientists, which has been training in the technology in Kenya since 2014, has ascertained that the technology has the potential of healing wounds faster.

Advances in stem cell research outline how it can be used to regenerate organs in individuals using cloning.
This means that people could donate to themselves new organs using their stem cells without the fear of them being rejected.

However, this is still a myth as researchers work towards this possibility.

In the meantime, a lot of regenerative work is being done using this technique in the country, more so in the field of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.

During a mini-symposium on stem cell research held at the KAVI offices last month, Prof Stanley Khainga and his team of medics outlined how they have been able to treat chronic wounds using stem cells, and the potential it has in medicine.

“For about 90 per cent of patients who come to the plastic surgery department of Kenyatta National Hospital, we have used their fat stem cells in the reconstructive process successfully,” said Prof Khainga, chairman of the Kenya Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons.

The symposium, held at the KAVI-ICR premises in the College of Health Sciences, UoN, brought together plastic surgeons from across the country to discuss advances in stem cell research and breakthroughs pertaining to the therapy and regenerative medicine.

Retrieving fat cells from a patient is said to be easy. Further, the cells can be harvested repeatedly.

Cosmetic surgeons are already using the technique for various procedures such as gluteal augmentation (butt enhancement) and replacing silicone implants, hence giving people in need of such procedures a reason to smile.

“An advantage of this technology during plastic surgery is that a small incision of about 2mm is made with no major scarring,” said D Khainga, adding that this enables faster results and healing.

Until recently, researchers worked with stem cells derived from embryos only and grew them in the laboratory.
Now they have discovered auto transplantation whereby they harvest stem cells from one part of the body and transfer them to another for regenerative procedures.

There are three ways to harvest adult stem cells in humans.

One is through bone marrow harvesting, another is via adipose tissue harvesting through liposuction, and the third is blood extraction which is then passed through a machine that extracts stem cells and returns the rest of the blood to the donor.

Discreet services

Although there is no definite data on the number of cosmetic surgery patients in the country, KNH said its plastic surgery department gets 10 to 20 patients per week, most of the cases involve reconstructive surgery.

However, most of those seeking cosmetic surgery prefer to get services in private clinics and can afford to pay the extra cost.

The demand for a little nip and tuck is also seeing plastic surgeons open more private clinics to cater for patients who want a more discreet services.

Valentis Clinic , for instance, is a plastic surgery and cosmetics medicine facility based at 14 Riverside Drive in Nairobi. It offers a variety of cosmetic treatments. The clinic said on its website that it provides discretion and confidentiality to its patients.

A billboard advert of an upcoming plastic surgery clinic is displayed on Mara Road in Upper Hill.

Dr Ferdinard Nangole, a plastic surgeon, said they plan to open Davinci Clinic at Fortis Towers in the upmarket area.

“We will perform various procedures, both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, with two consultant doctors available any given time,” he said.

Some of the services that the clinic will offer include fat grafting, regeneration of soft tissue defects, scar management, reduction of wound size for diabetic ulcers, post radiation burns and chronic ulcers in sickle cell patients.

It will also carry out all forms of aesthetic surgery such as breast, gluteal and penile augmentation and lip fillers.

Rejuvenation of hands and facelifting will also be offered.

With many such clinics being set up, Kenya is seen as the hub of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery in East Africa.

Dr Khainga said that their vision is to build a stem cell centre in Nairobi and a research institute.

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