French stem-cell store banks on healthy future

A French company is offering to harvest and store people's own stem cells in liquid nitrogen in the hope that those cells may be used one day to replace diseased organs. But banking your stem cells comes at a hefty price.

It is said that alchemists were obsessed with finding the elixir of life that would confer eternal youth and immortality.

Whether the practitioners of this ancient science got anywhere close to their goal remains a mystery.

But modern medicine, it seems, is on the cusp of achieving something equally remarkable: not exactly immortality, but a chance to combat age-related diseases and treat serious ailments affecting vital organs.

One company leading the charge is Paris-based Cellectis. The biotech firm is offering to store people’s stem cells in the hope that these “building blocks” can be used in the future to replace diseased organs.

“We will be storing pluripotent induced stem cells generated from a skin sample. These cells have the potential to provide any kind of body tissue with which to rebuild the damaged tissues of organs including the heart, liver, pancreas, etc,” said AndrĂ© Choulika, the company CEO, in a telephone interview.

'Rebooting' cells

The French company’s bold offer is based on the groundbreaking work of Prof. Shinya Yamanaka, a Japanese scientist and the 2012 Nobel Prize winner for Medicine, with whom Cellectis is collaborating.

Crucially, Prof. Yamanaka has developed a technique to derive stem cells – embryonic cells with the potential to create virtually any human cell or tissue – from adult cells.

“In layman's terms, you add a cocktail of things to the adult cells, which then forget the state they are in and ‘reboot’ back to the first stage of life. It’s as if your cells had gone back to their state just after fertilisation, nine months before birth,” Choulika explained.

According to the Beirut-born CEO, the earlier these cells are stored the more effective they will be. “As time passes, your DNA is gradually altered. In order to have better stem cells, it’s better to store them at an early, healthier stage. If you want to preserve your genetic inheritance and background, it’s better to freeze time immediately in the form of stem cells,” he said.

Cellectis says its offer is best suited to people who are mostly healthy and who want to enjoy the full benefits of regenerative medicinal treatment in the next 10 or 20 years.

“Our offer is not for people who need immediate treatment, but rather those who might need it in the future, if they are affected by some age-related disease,” said Choulika.

- France24.com


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