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?

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.