On a daily basis, our body naturally loses cells due to the wear and tear of our daily activities, injuries, and exposure to disease. When we’re young, we naturally have more stem cells in our bodies, which is probably why the injuries we had as kids healed so quickly. As our intrinsic stem cell population decreases, the healing process naturally takes longer. With age, the protective end caps (telomeres) on the DNA of our cells shorten as the cells age and eventually die, thus leading to age related diseases like osteoarthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Eventually, all newborns will have an opportunity to bank their young healthy stem cells at birth. In the meantime, over 300 million Americans will now have the opportunity to bank their own personal stem cells for possible use in the future. However, we can still get high quality, viable and healthy mesenchymal stem cells from our adipose (fat) tissue and even our bone marrow.
As the research and clinical trials continue to advance, your own safely stored stem cells may serve as your most important healthcare insurance decision.
Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) are pluripotent stem cells, meaning they have the natural ability to differentiate into many other functional cell types: bone, cartilage, muscle, neural tissue, blood vessels and more. MSCs also have the ability to self-replicate and split into two stem cells, which allows them to easily be multiplied. MSCs are found throughout our bodies and in many different tissues. MSCs also have a unique immune modulatory ability, which research has shown can help calm an overactive immune system, often associated with autoimmune conditions or cytokine storms. To isolate these MSCs, we work with umbilical cord, adipose tissue and bone marrow because they provide the richest, most easily accessible sources of MSCs from your own body, containing your own DNA.
Adult stem cells can be cryogenically stored indefinitely in special vials kept in liquid nitrogen at -190 degrees centigrade. They can be multiplied (culture expanded) in the bank laboratory and then frozen for use in the future. In theory, they can be expanded to provide nearly countless treatments – providing a savings account with unprecedented interest.
Adult stem cells come from easily accessible tissues. They refer to any stem cell that has progressed beyond the embryonic stage. Thus, the stem cells derived from a newborn’s umbilical cord are considered adult stem cells the same way stem cells derived from someone’s adipose tissue or bone marrow are also considered adult stem cells.
These pluripotent adult stem cells have the ability to differentiate into many different cell types and even self-replicate. Adult stem cells differ from embryonic stem cells in two other important ways. First, with adult stem cells, there is no ethical or moral controversy to harvesting and isolating these cells. Second, embryonic stem cells can potentially be tumorigenic and cause cancer. Adult stem cells have not been shown to cause tumors making them a much safer option.
As the ancient Chinese proverb goes, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” It’s better to start sooner rather than later when planning for the future. The wear and tear we put on our bodies from daily activity, injury, and disease, causes all of the cells in our body to age. As cells age, they become senescent and die. Under ideal conditions they can be replaced or repaired by a stem cell and continue to maintain normal function. However, if they die without repair or replacement, they cause a decrease in function for the organ or tissue involved. Sometimes, injured cells are actually repaired with our white blood cells and can end up as scar tissue. That might be good to hold a wound together, but not very helpful if the scar was a substitute for heart muscle or nerve tissue.
Stem cells that make it into our circulation replicate in the bone marrow. This gives them the ability to replace many cells throughout our lifetime, but as stem cells replicate, they age too. The replication process of a cell causes its protective DNA endcaps, called telomeres, to shorten. Telomere shortening is associated with age related conditions like osteoarthritis, impaired immune function, and susceptibility to cancer.
We have the ability to isolate your healthy, viable stem cells and store them for use in the future. As medical research and clinical trials progress, having stored your own personal stem cells now, should provide you with bio-insurance for long into the future.
Adipose tissue and bone marrow are both rich sources of mesenchymal stem cells. While umbilical cord cells are obviously young and robust, adipose stem cells also remain quite young and robust. However, bone marrow, especially on patients that prefer a bone marrow aspiration or lack adequate fat supplies, also represents a good source for stem cells. Adipose tissue and bone marrow are both rich sources of mesenchymal stem cells. Both tissues can be easily harvested in a simple outpatient surgical procedure. Based on your physician’s assessment of you, their training and comfortability, they might choose to offer harvesting one or the other for you. Both cell sources travel well to the lab and result in quality viable cells. However, the cells derived from adipose tissue are typically much more robust. Research has shown that the telomeres (protective end caps on your DNA, whose length decreases with age) are much longer on adipose derived mesenchymal stem cells compared to bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells from the same donor (Human Adipose-Derived Stem Cells Exhibit Enhanced Proliferative Capacity and Retain Multipotency Longer than Donor-Matched Bone Marrow Mesenchymal Stem Cells during Expansion In Vitro, Burrow et al. 2017).
Regardless, whatever cell is grown in the lab, even if it may be older with a shorter telomere, should have the same function to be able to repair injured or dead cells. We don’t yet know how this will affect the length of time a new or repaired cell will ultimately maintain its function.
Newborn stem cell banking is the process of isolating mesenchymal stem cells derived from the umbilical cord blood, tissue or Wharton’s jelly. These cells are ideal, as they are as young as your stem cells will ever be. If you can capture them at birth, then you should be able to save and use them for generations into the future and avoid future operations to harvest bone marrow or adipose tissue.