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Now, bank your stem cells for future use

Press Trust of India  |  Washington 

With stem-cell therapies poised to become the next big thing in medical treatments, companies in the US are offering people a unique chance to bank their stem cells for use in future.

It is believed that storing stem cells will come in handy in future when advance treatments are available. There will be stem cells ready to go that came from the patient's own body, eliminating the issue of rejection of donor cells.

Moreover, the cells are presumably healthier, as they would have been collected from a younger, disease-free patient, Discovery reported.

"With all these amazing advancements in the last few years, there will be stem cell therapies," said Vin Singh, founder and CEO of Grand Forks, North Dakota-based Next Healthcare, which offers stem cell banking.

Other consumer stem cell banks - which differ from the banks used by scientific institutions - include Biolife Cell Bank of Dallas, NeoStem Inc, of New York, BioEden of Austin, LifeBank of Burnaby, British Columbia.

Stem cells can become any kind of cell in the body. In the womb, embryonic stem cells turn into the cells that make up the organs, nerves, blood and bone.

Certain medical therapies make use of a stem cell's unique ability to transform into other cells.

To bank the stem cells, a person visits a doctor's office, where tissue samples are taken. Stem cells can theoretically come from anywhere, but usually a physician will take a small square of skin, a blood sample, a piece of fat via liposuction or even bone marrow.

Some companies offer to bank stem cells from children's teeth as they lose them, and many places offer banking blood from the umbilical cords of newborns.

The cells are sent to a facility where they are examined for any contamination or infection, and if nothing shows up they are put in cold storage. When they are needed, the cells are taken out and cultured into the desired cell and used for the therapy.

Some experts, however, have questioned how useful such banks are and whether they are worth the money. Storing stem cells can cost hundreds of dollars per year and thousands of dollars over time.

Also banking one's stem cells may be pointless when advances in biotechnology are making it possible to turn any cell from the body, such as skin, into a stem cell. The results are called induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS.

Another issue is whether being younger and healthier makes any difference.

"Studies don't seem to show that it does," said Richard Gronostajski, a professor of biochemistry and director of the University at Buffalo's Western New York Stem Cell Culture and Analysis Center.

"We've had IPS stem cell lines made from people in their sixties and seventies. There hasn't been a significant decline from [stem cells] made from skin cells in older donors," Gronostajski said.

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First Published: Thu, June 13 2013. 17:10 IST