A Glaswegian company has recently launched a new stem cell banking service which offers adults the opportunity to bank stem cells using a newly approved method of extraction and isolation.
The new method involves collecting a blood sample from the client at the client’s home which is then taken to a laboratory, where it is spun in a centrifuge in order to separate the plasma, red cells and white cells. Blastomere-like stem cells are then isolated and extracted from the plasma and stored at minus 80 degrees Celsius (°C).
'The real innovation here is being able to extract stem cells from blood. We can take these cells from a normal blood sample, a major step forward in making this available to the masses in a way which is not harrowing or expensive', said Graeme Purdy, chief executive of Altrika, the company which processes the stem cells.
The method was developed by researchers at Wisconsin University, US, and is approved by the UK's Human Tissue Authority. Prior to this development only stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood or 'spare' embryos could be banked.
Athol Haas' chief executive of Pharmacells under which the adult stem cell bank, Oristem, operates, explained: 'The two great advantages of the technology are that it is minimally invasive and cost effective, and also the cell type itself has much more theoretical use in science than any other type of cell you can collect. The other advantage is that these are not embryonic cells so there is no ethical controversy attached'.
The method is far less invasive than the current alternatives available, namely liposuction or apheresis, where the blood is passed through an external device which separates its constituent cell-types.
Blastomere-like cells are unspecialised cells with the potential to differentiate into other types of cells. 'They look a bit different from normal stem cells, they are a bit smaller and have a slightly funny shape. But all the indications at the moment are that they do behave in a similar way', said Dr David Lightbody, a researcher at Strathclyde University.
There is, however, disagreement among industry experts as to the value of banking stem cells at present. Haas admitted, 'no specific therapy exists that uses these stem cells yet', he said they 'expect that to change in the next couple of years and are actively working towards that'.
Dr Anna Veiga of the International Society for Stem Cell Research expressed scepticism over such services. 'It is one more of these companies who are selling stem cell products through the internet that are mainly businesses based on hopes they give to people with respect to therapies that have not been confirmed', she said
Pharmacells charges customers ₤2,495 to collect and store stem cells for 20 years.