- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The nation is facing a vanity-fueled epidemic. Lip plump, brow lift, “Gummy Bear” breast implants, anyone?

The number of cosmetic surgeries will increase fivefold in a few years, according to those who should know.

More than 55 million cosmetic surgery procedures will be performed in 2015, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons predicted Tuesday - more than quadruple the number performed in 2005. The allure of pricey improvement is rampant, no matter how bad the economy.

“The specialty will weather the current decline in economic growth just as it has previous declines, such as the stock market correction after the 2001 Internet bubble,” said Dr. Richard D’Amico, president of the Illinois-based group.

He’s excited, but not without caution, for those who can’t wait to visit a newfangled “medspa” or join the next Botox party in an undisclosed living room.

“Our concern is that with predicted growth and interest in the broad spectrum of cosmetic procedures, patients will look to the closest, easiest solution,” said Dr. D’Amico.

Indeed, Americans have become cozy with myriad surgical and nonsurgical procedures that boast faster recovery times, clever marketing and quick access at medical spas, or accommodating plastic surgeons.

“Power-assisted” liposuction, the “laser bra breast lift” and the “short scar face-lift” are among the most popular of the bunch, said Dr. David Stoker, a Los Angeles plastic surgeon who once perfected the “mommy makeover” for women vexed by the sags of childbearing.

“The latest trends we have in our practice include ‘Gummy Bear’ breast implants,” he said, explaining that the silicone-gel-based enhancements are less likely to “ripple” or leak with time.

The medical community cautions the ladies not to get too cozy, though.

A survey of 1,000 women released Tuesday by the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery (AACS) found that those ages 18 to 34 are “lax” when it comes to safety. More than half said it wouldn’t bother them, for example, if a physician were not present when they underwent a procedure in a medspa.

“There are good and bad medspas out there, and we want the public to be aware, ask questions and always make sure there is a qualified physician doing the procedure. If not, don’t have it done,” said Dr. Steven Hopping, a plastic surgeon and president of AACS.

Even “Gummy Bear” gels may be eclipsed, however. The future of cosmetic as well as serious reconstructive surgery may lie in “tissue engineering” through stem cells.

Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center received a $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering to use stem cells taken from a patient’s bone marrow or fat to engineer soft tissue that is fully “biocompatible.”

In April, the Defense Department awarded $85 million to the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, a multi-institutional network of plastic surgeons and other physicians seeking innovative ways to repair battlefield injuries.

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