April 27, 2010 (Washington, D.C.) -- Just a few weeks after the FDA chastised a handful of U.S. spas and one Brazilian company for making misleading claims about fat-melting injections known as lipodissolve, results of a small study suggest that it may play a role in treating small pockets of fat. The new study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Perhaps no one was more surprised by the results than study leader V. Leroy Young, MD, a plastic surgeon in St. Louis. “When we started this there were a number of companies that were treating large numbers of patients, and our initial goal was to make sure it was safe and worked. But before we could finish the study, one of the big companies doing it went bankrupt,” he says. “We figured if it worked, they would not have gone bankrupt, but felt we owed it to patients to see whether it was safe and worked. So although skeptical, we finished the study.”
And lipodissolve -- also known as lipotherapy or injection lipolysis -- did melt away fat.
The treatment involves a series of injections of medications that are purported to melt localized fat deposits. The drugs most regularly used are phosphatidylcholine and deoxycholate (commonly called PC and DC, respectively). Lipodissolve is not approved by the FDA.
In the new study, seven participants were injected with a standardized PC/DC cocktail in one half of their abdomen during up to four sessions that were eight weeks apart. As part of the study design, participants were allowed to request treatment in the other side of their abdomen once the initial results were tallied.
Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to objectively measure any changes in fat thickness.
“We did obliterate about a centimeter of fat,” Young tells WebMD. “It took time though, and you could have done the same thing in one liposuction treatment and removed more fat,” he says.
Six of seven study participants saw a visible difference and opted to undergo lipodissolve on the untreated side of their abdomen.
Side effects included swelling, redness, bruising, and some pain, but there were no serious side effects such as infection.
“It does reduce fat volume and thickness and side effects were predictable,” Young says. “Treatment of small areas of fat is a realistic expectation and a tool for people who want less invasive procedures and fear anesthesia.”
But it’s important to know what you are being injected with, he says. “You need to know who produces the cocktail and what was done to it after it was received,” he says.
As far as where the melted fat goes, it is not leaving the body, Young tells WebMD. “It has truly the same fate as fat you would eat,” Young says. It will migrate to other areas of the body with fat cells, including the arteries.
“You are not going to have a heart attack from this though because the amounts of fat are so small,” he says.
Jeffrey M. Kenkel, MD, a professor and vice chairman of plastic surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and director of the Clinical Center for Cosmetic Laser Treatment in Dallas, says that lipodissolve is “another option for treating small areas of fat such as under the chin, and revisions of small lumps and bumps after liposuction.”
Renato Saltz, MD, the immediate past president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) and a plastic surgeon in Salt Lake City, was also surprised by the study results.
“The study results are positive, but it is still a very small sample, so we have to be cautious regarding our final recommendation,” he tells WebMD. “Most of us felt that there was no application for mesotherapy (a procedure similar to lipodissolve) and had seen or heard of disasters abroad, so when it started coming here, we were very concerned,” he says.
Questions do remain, he says. "The new study was on a small group of people by a 'superb' surgeon, but are the results reproducible?” he says. The next step is to expand the study.
The bottom line? “Stay tuned,” Saltz says.