When the future comes, will you be ready?

Few things capture our imagination like the advancement of technology. Whether its focus is science, transportation, communications, or any other pursuit, innovation moves humanity forward. Today, most people carry in their pockets devices with computing power that far exceeds anything that we could have imagined a few decades ago. Electric self-driving cars are present in every major city around the globe, and manned missions to Mars are on the horizon.

Time and time again, human ingenuity and talent have made the impossible happen. This is true in many fields, including healthcare. Our lifespan and quality of life have vastly improved over the last century and will continue to do so. Think, for example, of the healthcare system your parents were born into. Compare that to what you have experienced throughout your life –and the rate of change is accelerating exponentially.

The tools at our disposal

Two of the most exciting discoveries in the field of medicine are iPSCs and CRISPR. These technologies are powering innovations that have allowed us to shift our focus in healthcare from reactionary to preventative. They hold the promise of treating and eliminating disease before the first symptom.

The first acronym stands for ‘Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells’. It refers to the ability to take an adult cell and reprogram it to behave like an embryonic stem cell. This means that it now has the potential to become any cell type in the human body.

CRISPR, short for ‘Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats’, is essentially cut and paste for the human genome. If you have a segment of code that is not performing properly or is causing disease, with this tool you are able to go in and edit out that gene, replacing it with a properly functioning one. As a result, you can avoid the problem altogether.

Treating disease in the future

These tools are currently being used by teams of scientists around the world in clinical trials aimed at producing treatments for a number of diseases. There are over 1,000 trials taking place at the moment, the majority of which focus on gene therapy and gene-modified cell therapy.

An exciting example is a study on the treatment of Parkinson’s disease using autologous neural stem cells. We have all seen the impact that this neurodegenerative disease can have on the quality of life of people who develop it. The symptoms range from uncontrollable shaking to difficulty walking and stiffness. Having a potential treatment in the coming years would be life-changing for the 10 million people currently living with the disease worldwide. The estimated completion date of this study, according to the scientists from the First People's Hospital of Yunnan Province in China, is early 2021.

Another medical condition that researchers are working on is macular degeneration. This is the progressive wearing down of photoreceptor cells in the retina leading to blindness. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Maryland are testing replacing these cells with healthy retina cells derived from iPSCs.

Creating organs on demand

If treating Parkinson’s and macular degeneration are appealing possibilities, imagine being able to 3D print a human heart. That is what researchers at Tel Aviv University have done. They managed to create the world's first 3D-printed heart using a patient's own cells and biological materials. To start, they created a smaller version, about the size of a rabbit heart. It was complete with blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. They accomplished this by taking a sample of tissue, reprogramming the cells to become pluripotent (iPSCs), and transforming them into the cells that make up the heart muscle.

This is a major breakthrough. Hearts created in that way can completely match the immunological, cellular, biochemical, and anatomical properties of the patient. What this means is that once this technology is available, patients will no longer have to wait for a donor. Additionally, there will be no rejections of the transplanted organs since they will contain the patient’s own cells. It is extremely exciting given that cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in industrialized nations.

Conclusion

These are just a few examples of what the future holds for regenerative medicine. Ongoing trials encompass therapeutic areas across the human body. These include oncology (cancer treatments), neurological disorders, gastroenterology, cardiovascular disorders, and even responses to infectious disease.

In short, the possibilities are endless. Having the tools to theoretically treat any disease imaginable will change our lives and our societies in more ways than we can imagine today. The first step anyone looking to take advantage of these future therapies should take is banking their cells. In doing so, they can ensure that doctors will have the best possible material to work with once these treatments are available.

To take advantage of cell banking, head to Acorn’s lab headquarters in the MaRS Centre in Downtown Toronto. You can also sign up to order the world's first affordable, accessible, live-cell home collection kit.

How medicine has gone from reactionary to preventative

Most of us take our health for granted. It is only when we feel unwell that doctors, nurses, and hospitals come to mind. We think of science and medicine as a means to cure diseases but very seldom think about it in terms of prevention. There is good reason for that. While medicine has had great success in preventing certain diseases with tools like vaccination, our healthcare system is largely based on treating conditions after they have developed.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Like any other industry, our healthcare system is a reflection of our current capabilities. It is mostly reactionary because that is the nature of the tools that we have at our disposal. That is not to say the results have been anything short of amazing. Every year, more than 100,000 organs are transplanted worldwide. Additionally, millions of people recover from life-threatening diseases thanks to a wide array of treatments. That being said, we are still waiting for people to get sick before seeking treatment.

The shift towards a preventative approach

Focusing on the preventative aspect of medicine has taken us even further. The main resources that health professionals have at their disposal are regular checkups and the promotion of healthy habits. The former is limited by what a doctor can see at the time and the latter is often too broad. It is hard to produce individualized recommendations without evidence of something going wrong with a patient.

Of course, visiting your primary care doctor every year and adopting healthy habits —exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate rest— are important to preserve your health. But imagine how useful it would be to know in advance precisely which diseases you will confront in the future. Now consider the possibility that through science and technology we could eradicate those diseases before the first symptoms appear. That is the promise of regenerative medicine and genetic engineering.

Woman in blue scrub suit helping woman sitting on bed by conducting a preventive health checkup
Regular health checkups and the promotion of healthy habits have been the main preventive health mechanism. There are now new opportunities you can take to prepare for preventive and precision medicine.

Getting a leg up on disease

The cornerstone of any successful strategy to prevent disease is reliable information. To obtain it you have to look no further than your own cells. They contain several layers of information that can potentially give scientists the ability to identify the conditions that you are most likely to face in your lifetime.

In the future, if your doctor could anticipate that you are going to experience Cystic Fibrosis, for instance, they could act long before the appearance of the first symptoms. One potential way to do this would be through CRISPR technology. It is a tool that allows for gene editing. Scientists could use it to take out the genes that would otherwise lead you to develop the illness. As a result, you would not have to wait for the problem to emerge before taking action.

The first step you must take to put yourself in a position to benefit from these advances is to have your cells banked as soon as possible. Extracting cells may sound daunting, but it is as simple as plucking hairs from your head. By preserving your cells at their youngest (today) and in advance of illness, you are securing the healthiest version of your cells for the future when you will need them most. Once our scientists analyze them and consider them viable, they will freeze them down in liquid nitrogen (at -190°C) to stop their aging process. When you need them either for analytical purposes or for treatment, they will be there waiting for you, as young and healthy as the day you saved them.

Looking to the future

Considering the amount of research currently underway, the future of preventative medicine looks bright. Although making predictions can be difficult, Dr. Drew Taylor, PhD, MSc, co-founder of Acorn, is confident that we will see this research give rise to mainstream treatments in the coming years and decades. ‘We are entering the era of regenerative medicine. In the coming years, more and more cell-based therapies will be discovered and help countless people across the globe. We are already seeing cell-based therapies help people today. I banked my wife's and my cells to make sure we will be able to have access to these treatments. But I have banked our children's as well, and I can't even imagine what will be possible in their lifetimes’.

The latest scientific advancements have the power to shift the focus of healthcare from reactionary to preventative. Armed with insights into their future, individuals will, for the first time, be in a position to address the causes of disease and prevent it from manifesting.

To learn more about cell banking, its benefits, and pricing, click here.

The Best Time to Bank Your Cells Is Today

Your own live cells are the single most valuable resource for future medical treatment. Thanks to the advances in the field of regenerative medicine, scientists now have the tools to use them to theoretically treat any disease imaginable. One thing to keep in mind is that the sooner you bank your cells, and shield them from aging, the greater their therapeutic potential will be.

While it is certainly exciting, trying to stay up to date with the constant advancements of science and technology can be overwhelming. There is just too much information out there. To make matters worse, the language researchers use while publishing their findings in scientific journals, can be unintelligible.

Fortunately, you don’t need an MD or PhD to know that we are on the brink of a medical revolution. You may have heard about regenerative medicine. It is a field of study concerned with the reengineering of human cells to form tissues and organs. Its goal is to develop treatments for an endless variety of medical conditions. This field is expanding at a rapid pace. It has the potential to completely transform our approach to health and medicine in general.

The future of medicine will be cell-based

At the center of this revolution is the ability to take a sample of a person’s cells and transform them into whatever tissue or organ a patient requires for treatment. For a long time, sourcing these cells proved to be a difficult task. Researchers could not simply take any cell in the body since, by the time they have matured, cells become differentiated and specialized. Only stem cells retain their potential to become any type of cell required.

There are a few viable methods of stem cell extraction, including bone marrow harvesting and liposuction. However, they are inconvenient, expensive, and painful for the patient. In addition, these types of stem cells were multipotent, but could not become any and every cell in the body. Thankfully, researchers John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka discovered a way to program mature cells to become pluripotent —they received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2012 for this discovery. What this means is that scientists can now take adult cells and make them behave like stem cells. This process restores their transformative potential.

Based on this finding, researchers at Acorn concluded that hair follicles are an effective source of cells for banking. They are therapeutically-capable and can be grown consistently in the lab. Their extraction is simple, convenient, affordable, non-invasive, and painless. You can either head to Acorn's lab headquarters in Downtown Toronto to provide a sample or do it in the comfort of your home. If you order a live cell collection kit, all you have to do is pluck your own hairs, follow the instructions in the box and ship it back to Acorn for processing.

The right time to bank your cells

There is something to keep in mind if you are considering banking your cells: time is of the essence. As we age, our cells deteriorate. This means that their ability to function and perform their jobs slowly diminishes. The result is that they lose some of their therapeutic potential. Your cells at 20 years old are much better than at 50 —likewise, they are much better at 50 than at 80.

Should I bank my cells if I am over 50? Yes, absolutely. They are in a much better state now than they will be in the future. If you decided to bank them today and were to need them at 60, you will have shielded them from 10 years worth of damage. This is because at -190°C, cellular metabolism, and with it the aging process, stops. The best timepoint to bank your cells is today, regardless of age.

Take advantage of the information contained in your cells

What if I never require a procedure that involves stem cells? You will still benefit from next-generation analytics. Most people are familiar with DNA home testing kits. These tests capture dead cells from saliva that are unusable in cell therapy but can reveal ancestry. This is just one of the many layers of information contained within your cells. The other layers are only accessible through live cell collection. That is what Acorn offers.

Our DNA does not normally change, but there are many layers of information in our cells, including epigenetics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics that are changing throughout our lives. Having a sample taken today allows you to plot the difference in these layers over time as new analytical tests become available. This can help predict what diseases you may face later in life. Equipped with this knowledge, you can modify your behavior and adopt healthier habits. This would help to increase your healthspan for as long as possible.

In the future, you will even have the possibility to have faulty genetic code edited out with tools like CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats). This mechanism is essentially ‘cut and paste’ for the human genome.

Thanks to a multitude of therapies currently in development, it will be possible to eradicate a latent disease long before the first symptoms appear. That is the promise of regenerative medicine and genetic engineering.

The bottom line is this: the sooner you take action and have your live cells cryopreserved, the better prepared you will be to take advantage of the revolution of regenerative medicine that is coming. It is the ultimate investment.

To learn more about the benefits of banking your cells at Acorn and get pricing options, click here.

Investing in the Ultimate Health Insurance Policy

We can all understand the importance of having the right insurance policy to protect our property and well-being from potential risks. Science now provides the possibility to invest in protection at a cellular level. Find out how Acorn gives you the best chance to capitalize on the advancements of regenerative medicine.

Experience has taught us that it is a smart choice to plan for future contingencies. It is not a matter of expecting things to go wrong but preparing ourselves in the event that they do. While there is much that we can do to minimize our risk in different situations —passing a driving test to ascertain our skills behind the wheel to prevent car accidents, or reducing our consumption of processed meals to avoid unhealthy weight gain— even the most cautious and health-conscious among us can see the value in auto and health insurance. The same principle applies to life, home, disability, and loan insurance.

Insurance for the 21st century

Recent advances in the field of medicine have opened the door to a new type of insurance that just a few decades ago would have seemed like science fiction: biologic insurance. This is possible via stem cell banking. You may have heard of stem cells before. Unlike adult cells, which have become specialized, stem cells have the potential to become any type of cell in the body.

Up until a few years ago, garnering stem cells required invasive and painful procedures such as bone marrow extraction. Additionally, these types of stem cells are multipotent, but do not have the ability to become any type of cell in the body. Fortunately, researchers have found a way to induce pluripotency in mature cells. This means that they can now take cells from hair follicles and program them to behave like stem cells. Thanks to this process, your cells have the potential to become whatever type of cell you need for medical treatment.

Let’s say you find yourself in need of an organ in a few decades. If you have not thought ahead and banked your cells, you will have to join a waitlist, along with thousands of patients, and hope for a match. Even then, there would still be a risk of rejection. You could simply have your cells banked then, right? You could, but their potential would be severely reduced. As we age, our cells begin to deteriorate. It is a normal process. However, this means that by the time you need them they may be too damaged to function as a healthcare resource.

How you can take advantage of this technology

By banking your cells today, you can shield them from the damage caused by aging. Once you provide a sample that the scientists at Acorn consider viable, they will preserve your cells under carefully controlled conditions. When you need them, they will be as young and healthy as they were the day you took your sample.

So what exactly can this biologic insurance protect against? Taking adult cells and turning them into the building blocks of the human body allows for endless applications. There are over 1,000 clinical trials taking place at the moment that aim at treating a multitude of conditions. These include musculoskeletal and spinal cord injuries, as well as diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Just like any other field of study propelled by advancements in technology, regenerative medicine is constantly expanding and we are barely scratching the surface of its potential. Scientists now have the tools to theoretically treat any disease imaginable. It is just a matter of time before treatments become widely available. When that happens, those who have banked their cells in advance will be in a better position to take advantage of these treatments.

Investing in the future

This is not the first time that we as a society have had the opportunity to invest in scientific and technological advances that seem far-fetched at first but become commonplace later on. Forensic police departments, for example, have come a long way. In the 1970s, forensic departments were unsure about the value of preserving biological samples found at crime scenes. At the time, technology only allowed them to determine blood type. It still was not advanced enough to identify a suspect.

Years later, once DNA technology advanced, forensic departments around the world that decided to invest in preserving samples could identify suspects with 99.9% certainty. In many cases, this technology helped to vindicate people that were wrongly convicted. Justice was served only because certain groups had the foresight to invest in something they knew had value and could make a difference in the future.

There is one simple lesson we can learn from instances like this. It is to prepare ourselves for the next wave of advances in science and medicine that is surely coming. While there is no guarantee that you will ever need to use your home or auto insurance —we certainly hope not— we are sure you would agree that having those resources at your disposal brings peace of mind. Imagine how much more meaningful it would be to know you have secured access for yourself, or your loved ones, to potentially life-saving therapies that will become available in the future.

To take advantage of cell banking, head to Acorn’s lab headquarters in the MaRS Centre in Downtown Toronto. You can also sign up to order the world's first affordable, accessible, live-cell home collection kit.

Your Cells Will Be The Next Currency in Healthcare – Are You Ready?

“Have you had your cells done”? That will be the future cocktail party talk that will bubble around us as we mingle.  

Over the next few years, cell-based medical innovations will revolutionize the way we treat diseases and the way we think about our own personal healthcare.  Increasingly, doctors will be leveraging our own cells as powerful sources of therapies. And that will make our cells very valuable!

People are increasingly understanding that their cells can unlock valuable information.  Already today consumers are using their cells to understand their DNA, get ancestry information and very basic health data to help them make better choices that could impact their health.   And with this comes the understanding of just how valuable their cells can be.

Next-generation discoveries in cells give us new ways to think about healthcare

But recent major medical advancements have enabled us to do more with our cells than just get ancestry information and basic health reports – but these give us a real path to longevity and new ways of thinking about our personal healthcare. 

In 2008, the discovery of IPSCs – those very special stem-like cells that can be made to grow out into any type of human cell to create entire human organs or tissues – revolutionized the way medicine can leverage cells for therapies.  No more invasive bone marrow or blood work to extract stem cells. IPSC’s allow the medical community to use these special cells that can be found in many easy-access points such as our hair follicles, as the basis for ongoing research on how to cure disease.  This not only started to make cell therapies more accessible but also more affordable.

And then there was the discovery of CRISPR, the single biggest advancement in gene-editing – allowing the medical community to edit out genes from cells and as commercial uses advance, the technique enables the medical community to edit-out diseases before they even manifest in people.  CRISPR has single-handedly enabled us to move away from simply reacting to diseases or trying to cure them, to instead moving us towards preventing diseases from actually happening in the first place.

Tens of thousands of medical groups are already creating important therapies off the back of these two very important discoveries, creating a ton of excitement around human cell research today.

Going beyond basic home DNA testing kits

So going beyond basic home DNA kits that collect dead saliva cells has already begun. This has created urgency around the need for a simple, non-invasive and affordable home-based collection and preservation service that leverages the full live human cell genome.  The future is about home-based live cell collection solutions that can leverage cell sources as common as your own hair follicles.

Collecting and preserving your cells for life will unlock real medical therapies that exist today and get you ready for ones that will be developed in the near future.   

“Getting your cells done”  – or, collecting, preserving and banking your cells will be a foundational path to future healthcare.   Getting your cells done will be as mainstream as getting the flu shot and it will forever change the way we think about personal health.  

Just like computer power did – cell therapy is advancing rapidly

The computing industry proved out that over time computers became exponentially more affordable and accessible to mass consumers. As computing power grew faster and faster, it enabled those same consumers to do more and more with their computers.  That same trend is happening in the medical community with cell-based therapies: the pace of innovation around using cell-based therapies to cure more and more diseases at an increasingly affordable rate is real. Therapies that leverage cells for tissue engineering such as the ability to grow new cartilage or skin, as well as innovations around using cells to create simple organ structures have already been succeeding… Heart, liver and kidney regeneration are just around the corner.

What’s taking so long?

With all these innovations, people often ask why we haven’t made more progress?   Why is it that cell therapy and the broader conversation around the value of stem cell research feels like we have been talking about it for ages, but yet still feels like it's in its infancy?  – that’s because it is!  

Stem cell research has often been compared to the invention of flight by the Wright Brothers.  But not only is that comparison valid from just the sheer magnitude that the invention of flight has had on us as humans, but the comparison is equally valid when you think of the pace of innovation and the complexity around that innovation.

Did you know that while the Wright Brothers invented flight in December 1903 – that it only happened on that day after nearly 8 years of the brothers experimenting with flight as a concept, and that they only flew 23 meters?  What’s even more surprising is that it would take yet another nearly 11 years after their that first flight to see the first paying customer actually take the first commercial flight in 1914?   

Many researchers tag the 2008 discovery of IPSCs as the beginning of real capabilities of working with cells for therapeutic purposes, and other experts compare the CRISPR discovery to the significance of the Wright Brothers inventing flight – in a very similar way as the Wright Brothers – we have really only been at it for a few years! 

Some would argue that the pace of cell therapy innovation is actually more rapid than the path of innovation around flight. It seems as if these days, every week there is another therapeutic implementation that leverages our own human cells.

That’s why I’m excited about cells and the role that they are increasingly playing in the future of healthcare and how we think about healthspan.   By leveraging the power of our cells, we unlock a valuable currency for our future health and longevity.

That makes our cells a very important currency.  Your future health will depend on unlocking their value.  We are now at the cusp of real human-based cell therapies –  making your cells the next currency in healthcare.

So, have you done your cells yet?

How Acorn has joined the fight against COVID-19

The world is currently in the midst of the worst pandemic of the 21st century. SARS-CoV-2 has disrupted the lives of billions of people around the world and brought entire economies to a halt. These uncertain times demand unprecedented cooperation between governments, private organizations, and civil society. Very early on, we at Acorn raised our hands and joined the fight against COVID-19. We remain committed to supporting the efforts to beat this disease and its long-term consequences.

The sudden appearance and quick spread of a new disease is something that humanity has had to face at semiregular intervals throughout history. The last time we confronted a challenge of this magnitude was more than 50 years ago, during the 1968 Pandemic (H3N2 virus). The estimated number of deaths during that pandemic was 1 million. At the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic has reached half of that number and it is still far from over.

Coming together to fight a common enemy

Unfortunately, the spread of infectious diseases on a global scale is occurring more often than before. In an increasingly integrated world, the potential for diseases to expand across borders is enormous. At the same time, crises like these often bring out the best in our societies. Different groups in government, academia, and the private sector, which had not cooperated before, have come together to create solutions against COVID-19.

Acorn Biolabs Team in Toronto meeting over Zoom to adap to COVID19 pandemic
Our virtual team meetings in this new normal help us continue to serve our clients, our employees, and our community.

The first thing that Acorn did at the onset of this crisis was to get protective equipment to the hands of frontline workers. This has proven to be vital in stopping the spread from patient to patient. We also quickly engaged with the Canadian government to lend our ISO certified lab for diagnostic testing. This effort is still ongoing.

The role of preventative healthcare in fighting pandemics

Knowledge is power. This is especially true in healthcare. While a vaccine may still be months or even years away from development and distribution at a global scale, analytics can make a difference. Data obtained through testing can help implement effective measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. It also allows for a more effective allocation of resources. 

There are differences in the way individuals respond to contracting the virus depending on a number of factors, not just age. These are factors that can be analyzed in order to determine who is predisposed to develop more severe symptoms. If individuals know they have comorbidities or other issues that make them more susceptible to experiencing severe symptoms, they can plan accordingly. This means either avoiding high-risk situations or taking quicker action at the first indication of infection.

This information can be very useful for healthcare workers as well. It empowers them to direct their resources and attention to people that they know will need intensive care immediately. As a consequence, health care systems around the world can better manage the burden of infection, avoiding collapse. This is what makes the preventative and predictive element so important. At Acorn, we are developing tools to predict an individual's response to infection and risk for severe and life-threatening symptoms. Getting ahead of infections and providing individuals with the best tools to overcome the disease has the potential to save lives.

What comes after the pandemic

Once we are past the phase of containment of the virus, we must look into the long-term implications for those who have contracted COVID-19. There have been reports of different conditions manifesting once people have recovered from the disease. The New York Times has reported that approximately 90 percent of patients who required ventilators develop acute kidney injury. There is also a risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome. That is where tissue engineering has an opportunity to help fight COVID-19.

At Acorn, we are also focusing on these long-term consequences. There is potential for the development of cell-based treatments to help those who are dealing with second-order implications of having COVID-19. We are working to prepare people to take advantage of these treatments by providing them with the cellular material they will need.

Managing and eventually solving this crisis will require a multifactor approach. Collaboration between different sectors has proven essential and it must continue. Building on this will allow us to react more quickly and effectively when this eventually happens again. Investing in preventative medicine and cell-based therapies will put us in a much more favorable position moving forward. We are committed to this goal.

If you are looking to partner on COVID-19 solutions, please contact us at covid@acorn.me.

Present wrapped up in winter background representing gifting Acorn Biolabs stem cell collection service in Toronto

Giving the gift of a healthier, longer life

We all know how stressful and sometimes frustrating holiday shopping can be. Every year, we probably promise ourselves to start earlier and refrain from leaving things to the last minute. But life often gets in the way, and finding a truly unique and memorable gift for a loved one can seem almost impossible. 

But what about a gift that keeps on giving for a lifetime? Something so impactful to a person’s health and well-being that Toronto Life put it on its 2019 Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide?

We’re talking about Acorn’s non-invasive stem cell collection. It’s a gift that will provide your loved ones with regenerative medicine, which is changing the way we treat people affected by diseases that include Parkinson's and Alzeihmer’s. It also has the potential to 3D print new organs using only human cells.

Until now, stem cell therapy has been incredibly expensive, invasive and potentially dangerous. Harvesting live cells was typically done by surgical means, including bone marrow harvesting and liposuction. But Acorn has developed the technology to harness those live stem cells by simply plucking a few hair follicles from a person’s head. 

Once that’s done, the stem cells are cryopreserved at a specially designed facility where they are analyzed to provide detailed health analytics. Our own cells hold the key to both the identification and treatment of various diseases. They have the potential to unlock vital information about our health that we can in turn use to identify potential roadblocks to individual well-being, prevent illnesses, prolong our life span and increase our overall quality of life. 

Simply put, our collection and cryopreservation packages give patients complete ownership over their health. They’ll be able to leverage the data to identify health triggers and take preemptive, personalized measures to improve their well-being over the short-term and the long-term. 

So if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind present that’s available nowhere else in the world and will benefit your loved ones for the rest of their lives, visit our website and purchase our cell collection service -- and give the gift of a healthier, longer life.

Drew Taylor CEO Acorn Biolabs at the Wellness Stage with Balaji Gopalan CEO of Medstack, Dr. Elaine Chin CEO of Executive Health Centre, Dr. Ian Rogers, leading stem cell biologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, and Dr. Molly Shoichet, Ontario’s first Chief Scientist.

Landing our moonshot: How Elevate took Acorn to the next level

This fall, Toronto became the center of the universe for all things tech and innovation. Elevate Tech Festival, now the fastest-growing conference of its kind in the world, kicked off across the city. It brought together entrepreneurs, scientists, disruptors -- and even a former First Lady and astronaut -- to talk big ideas. 

For Acorn, it was a tremendous opportunity for us to showcase our work and talk to thousands of attendees about the future of regenerative medicine and how our affordable, non-invasive technology is making it available to people across the country. As a Toronto-based health tech company with roots in the heart of the city’s innovation core at MaRS, it was an amazing experience to see so many people from outside the city marvel at how it’s become a global leader in tech. 

Acorn Biolabs founder Steven ten Holder discussing future of regenerative medicine and stem cells at Elevate 2019 in Toronto
Our team had the opportunity to discuss the future of regenerative medicine with thousands of attendees.

For those of you who didn’t get a chance to attend, this year’s theme was taking your “moonshot” in business or research. Essentially, the conference looked to innovators who are aiming to take big leaps of faith to deliver a quantum shift to their industry. This speaks directly to our core values at Acorn, and what we’re trying to do to prepare people for the future of healthcare. 

Regenerative medicine is on the cusp of making major breakthroughs in treating ailments and life-altering diseases that, until now, the medical profession has been unable to cure. While major advancements in preventative medicine may not get the same attention as, for example, artificial intelligence, we’re getting extremely close to taking cell therapy to the next level. That’s incredibly exciting for the future of healthcare. 

I have a tremendous interest in disruptive and innovative technologies, so it was fascinating for me to see so many different industries coming together to learn from one another. This was particularly true for those of us who had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on the Acorn-sponsored Wellness Stage that was moderated by Balaji Gopalan, a data privacy expert and CEO of Medstack. I was joined on stage by Dr. Elaine Chin, founder of Executive Health Centre, Dr. Ian Rogers, a leading stem cell biologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, and Dr. Molly Shoichet, who was Ontario’s first Chief Scientist. 

We took a deep dive into the future of personal and preventative medicine, and how the use of big data is changing the way we treat patients. This was certainly a highlight for me, but the fact that across this powerful panel of experts, three of the four had already banked their cells with Acorn before kicking off the discussion was incredibly humbling. It’s a testament to how hard we’ve worked at Acorn that some of the top scientists and doctors in their respective fields recognize just how important banking cells can be to live healthier, longer lives. We are no longer just simply talking about the benefits of live-cell analytics and regenerative medicine, but practicing it. 

Two attendees to Elevate 2019 Toronto learn about regenerative medicine, stem cell banking, and hair follicle cells at Acorn Biolabs booth.
"I've heard about you guys and I'm curious to learn more!"

Another sign that Acorn has really turned a corner in the growth of our company? It was when we had people approach the Acorn booth to say: “Hey, I’ve heard about you guys and I’m curious to learn more!” We even had people banking their cells right away, with no conversation. Once again, it was another tribute to all the hard work our marketing team, lead by Sonya Verheyden, is doing to spread the word about Acorn. To see how excited our scientists and co-op students were, as they engaged with people to tell them about all the amazing work we’re doing, really drove home the point that we’re building something truly special. And we’re having a lot of fun doing it.

Watch Drew's full 20 minute talk at Elevate Toronto 2019

Drew Taylor: Your Cells Will Be The Next Currency in Healthcare

Here is everything you ever wanted to know about cells

What is a cell and why are they important?

Trillions of cells make up our bodies, all working together to keep us alive.   Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things. Each cell eventually becomes a cell with a particular function in our body.  Once they have fully developed their role, we often refer to these cells as differentiated cells since each is different and has a very different function. Just like our bodies, our cells age too. As the process of aging takes hold, our cells regenerate less and less and die off.

What is a stem cell, and how is it different than a regular cell?

A stem cell is like a master cell of the human body. Before the cell has differentiated into a serving a specific bodily function, it starts as a stem cell. A stem cell grows into any kind of differentiated cell type and gets assigned a particular function for the body, such as an organ. Initially undifferentiated, they can become whatever cell type the body needs to survive.

We all have stem cells. An unborn baby’s umbilical cord is full of stem cells. Our blood has stem cells too, and even our bone marrow has stem cells.  But stem cells also exist in other places in the body.

What makes stem cells so valuable is that they can grow out and serve any part of the body, replenish other dying cells, repair the body or replenish what it needs. We have used them for many years as a way to regenerate and repair the human body.

Are stem cells the only kind of cell that can regenerate in a human body?

Yes and no. Technically the stem cell is the only master cell and for centuries this was medicine's common understanding. However, in 2012, Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John Gurdon received a Nobel Prize for demonstrating a technique than converts any regular human adult cell into pluripotent stem cells.  We could now take any cell in the human body, previously differentiated into a specific function, and reprogram it or convert it into a stem-like undifferentiated cell.

We call these new forms of cells Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells or IPS cells or iPSCs because they are a type of pluripotent stem cell that can be generated directly from an adult regular cell. 

I thought stem cells were only in a newborn’s umbilical cord, in bone marrow or in blood?

Umbilical cord cells, bone marrow cells or blood cells certainly have traditionally been the most talked-about source of stem cells.  However, the discovery of iPSC technology has unlocked other types of sources of stem cells of varying degrees of flexibility.  Acorn has a proprietary transport medium that allows you to collect these precious cells from your hair follicles for example - and that means accessible, easy to do and affordable. Other sources of stem cells make it costly and highly invasive.  Acorn lets you leverage iPSC technology and removes the historical challenges of highly invasive cell collection methods.

Why do iPSC’s matter?

The discovery of iPSC technology was one of the most significant medical innovations in our lifetime. Humans were no longer tied to finding stem cells through highly invasive methods such as blood draws, liposuction, bone marrow extractions or umbilical cord harvesting - but over the lifetime of a human have the ability to leverage any cell in the body and convert it into a stem-like cell that can be used to treat disease, repair and regenerate organs.  This discovery has allowed medicine to rapidly advance innovations in using cells as a much more accessible and affordable source of personalized therapeutic medicine.

Why should my cells be collected and preserved at all - if my body regenerates them why can’t I just extract them when I need them?

Much the way we all age, our cells age too. Over time, they experience irreversible damage that causes them to be less useful, or viable as we age. 

It is later in life, as we age and accumulate disease and organ failure when we most need our cells. Unfortunately, it is then when our cells are the least viable for cell therapy use. 

Freezing them at the earliest possible moment in your life will ensure you are preserving the best possible version of your cells rather than depending on aging cells.

Conceptual image showing blurred brain with loss of neuronal networks to illustrate Alzheimers disease in the context of regenerative medicine.

Regenerative medicine might help cure Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s is something that has touched loved ones in my own life. Many of us have a friend or family member touched by the horror and heartbreak of Alzheimer’s disease.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month, and it’s worth remembering that nearly 50 million people globally are living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The World Health Organization predicts the situation will worsen in the coming decades: that number will swell to 152 million by 2050.

Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder characterized by progressive cognitive decline. Substantial neuron loss is observed even in patients with mild forms of the illness. Billions of dollars spent on research in the last few decades. Despite this and other tremendous efforts to develop novel medicines and therapies to stop or reverse the disease, there is still no cure.

Can stem cells cure Alzheimer's disease?

Increasing the number of neurons, or replacing lost ones, could be a potential game-changer for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.

And stem cells are capable of renewing themselves continuously, and differentiating into specialized cells -- including neurons. I hold promise that stem cells may possibly hold the key to stamping out Alzheimer’s disease in our lifetime.

Several studies have identified key molecules or drugs that can reverse neuron dysfunction in elderly animals, including via plasma exchange. Transplanting stem cells to substitute for lost neurons is another possibility that’s being avidly studied. UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) recently brought together a multi-disciplinary team to seek new insights into Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Their work includes the potential use of regenerative medicine to treat the disease.

At Acorn, we believe cell therapies and regenerative medicine will play a major role in the next generation of healthcare. People with Alzheimer’s and a host of other devastating diseases and disabilities will benefit.

As a company that collects and cryogenically stores live cells, it’s an exciting and promising time.  Cells could help us detect Alzheimer’s earlier. They might become a therapeutic resource in the future. We can harvest and freeze the clock on our cells with no pain and help people live longer and healthier lives. This month, as we remember those battling Alzheimer’s,  we couldn’t be more proud of our mission.