Wishing that stubborn ring of belly fat would just disappear? 

Think twice about willing it away completely. Physicians at a Toronto clinic now consider it biological insurance that can be stored for a rainy day.

Adisave, a clinic specializing in stem-cell harvesting, has begun offering storage of stem cells from human body fat, claiming the biological material can be used as a medical tool to repair and rejuvenate the body.

Debra Seed opted for liposuction treatment to remove fat from her body and is paying $1,700 to have stem cells extracted, frozen and stored at Adisave-- the first clinic in the country to offer fat stem cell banking. 

“They can put them back in my body and rejuvenate the bad cells,” she said.

Dr. Sammy Sliwin, a plastic surgeon and medical director at Adisave, has been working in fat grafting since 1992. He began doing research on mesenchymal stem cells in 2008.

According to Sliwin, fat, or adipose tissue, contains 500 times more stem cells compared to bone marrow. Studies suggest they may have the power to repair injuries, damaged hearts and treat illness, he said.

 “It’s the most plentiful source of stem cells in the body,” he said. “And because of its ease of harvesting, for regenerative medicine, it’s the ideal source of stem cells.”

The research is still unproven, so Adisave now wants to launch two studies to see if the stem cells derived from fat can repair scars and heal joints damaged by arthritis.

Sliwin says it could have very positive implications for knee surgery because the idea is that when injected,  the stem cells cause the patient’s own fat inside a joint to regrow cartilage.

“Up until now there’s never been a way of injecting anything or treating the knee -- besides doing a knee replacement -- that will regrow cartilage,” he said.

Toronto arthritis sufferer Anthony Honeywood says he wants to part of the study. The 79-year-old has severe arthritis in his left knee but doesn’t want invasive surgery, like a knee replacement.

“I’m hoping it will allow me to walk again without having to wear a knee brace which I have to do occasionally,” he said.

But with the treatment still unproven, there are many questions yet to be answered.

Dr. Ivona Percec, professor of surgery from the University of Pennsylvania, says while studies have shown much promise for the use of adult stem cells in treating heart disease and neurological problems, there are multiple concerns. To what degree the stem cells can be controlled in a particular treatment is still unknown, Percec said, as is their efficacy after prolonged time in storage.

Some people have hypothesized that stem cells can lead to increased risk of cancer, Percec said.  In addition, studies have shown stem cells in older patients do not function as effectively as those from younger patients.

“So can those older patients actually benefit as much as we think they will be able to,” Percec said.

Despite that, Percec said stem cell banking and therapy is likely the way of the future.

“I think that ultimately it is a good idea and that stem cells derived from fat particularly are going to be extremely beneficial for treating multiple disease processes as well as normal aging,” she said. “However, we still have a lot of work to do on the actual biology and without a basic science understanding of how these cells function we will not be able to reap the full benefit of them.”

With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip