What are the only stem cell therapy conditions currently approved in Canada?

As of 2020, Canada has approved a total of 3 cellular therapeutic products! These include the use of stem cells for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), Adult B-cell Lymphoma, and Graft V Host disease.

Most approved therapies use hematopoietic stem cells (HSC). Bone marrow, blood, and the umbilical cord all contain HSCs. HSCs mature into cells that make up the blood and immune system. This makes them perfect for the treatment of conditions such as leukemia, lymphoma, and blood disorders. We can now treat over 80 medical conditions with the HSCs collected from cord blood.

Three cellular therapeutic products do not sound like enough. To understand why there are a few approved stem cell therapies on the market we must first ask the following questions:

How do stem cell therapies get approved in Canada?

In Canada, all cell therapies are considered drugs under the Food and Drugs Act. They must be authorized by Health Canada to ensure they are safe and effective before they are offered to Canadians. All other treatments are experimental or unproven. Canadians should refer to Health Canada's Drug Product Database [2]and Clinical Trials Database [3].

How do stem cell therapies work?

Stem cell therapies can work in one of two ways to reduce the severity of a disease or disorder. The first is a stem cell transplant, and the second one is to act as a target for a drug or other biologic. A stem cell transplant is when existing stem cells in your body, which have been damaged or destroyed by disease, are replaced. The stem cell transplant can either be allogeneic or autologous.

  • An allogeneic transplant involves a person (donor) giving his/her stem cells to another person (recipient).
  • An autologous transplant involves a person giving his/her stem cells, which are then manipulated or processed and reintroduced to the same person.

Stem cells can also act as a target for a drug or other biologic. In this type of treatment, the drug activates a desired response from the stem cells that already exist in the patient's tissues or organs.

The future of stem cell treatments is dependent on Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (IPSC) technology. This technology involves reprogramming skin or blood cells into an embryonic-like pluripotent state. Cells in a pluripotent state can generate any other type of cell in the human body.

The promise of stem cells lies in the clinical trials

Unapproved therapies are those that have gone through the safety and efficacy process through clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies performed in people to find out if a new treatment is safe and effective. There are approximately 1300 trails underway that use HSCs to address conditions such as[5]:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), found in cord tissue and placental tissue, can differentiate into many types of cells and tissues. These include cartilage, skin, bone, and fat cells. There are more than 300 major MSC clinical trials underway worldwide for conditions such as:

  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Lung Cancer
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Stroke

Finally, IPSC based clinical trials have been at the forefront of stem cell therapeutics. In 2019, heart surgeons used IPSC-derived cardiomyocytes to treat patients with heart disease. There is hope to treat patients with Parkinson's Disease by 2022[6].

With so many ongoing trials, those who choose to invest in cord blood, placental tissue banking or live cell tissue banking are not just investing in the medicine of today, but recognize the future of stem cell and regenerative medicine.

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.

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.

A message from our CEO during COVID-19

I hope this note finds you and your family safe and in good health. While family, work and overall life routines have continued to adjust, our priorities at Acorn remain the same. We continue to serve our clients, our employees, and our community. 

As news of COVID-19 spread, none of us knew exactly what to expect. As weeks have passed, one thing has become clear, I have been inspired by the reaction of both our employees and of our front-line healthcare partners. I wanted to share a bit of that with you.

Converting to a remote work model and suspending new cell collections

Acorn reacted quickly to convert to a remote work model. We minimized our presence at our facility and reduced staff to oversee the maintenance and security of our cryopreserved samples.

The safety of our clients and employees is always paramount. For everyone’s safety, Acorn suspended any new collections at our offices and at our partner clinics. For those who had appointments booked, I apologize. We look forward to the day where it is safe to continue our work in preparing everyone for the bright future of precision and regenerative medicine. We will resume as soon as it is safe to do so and will notify you immediately. If you are already a client, rest assured that your cells and samples are safe and secure.

Donating personal protective equipment

With our processing laboratory ceasing operations, we quickly gathered up our PPE (personal protective equipment) and supplies and donated them to multiple long-term care and nursing home facilities in the area. At one point while coordinating supplies, I was joined on a call by a nurse from a facility that had several cases.   She was wearing a garbage bag to protect herself and to stop any spreading of the virus to their vulnerable population. I cannot stress how grateful we are to our front-line workers who have put themselves at risk and met this crisis with resolve and strength. Thank you to all who work tirelessly for the health and safety of others.

How to use science in the fight against COVID-10

The outbreak of COVID-19 has reinforced the commitment we have to our crucial mission of empowering individuals with preventative healthcare. A key research area that Acorn is committed to being part of is the long-term solution to the potential lasting effects for those who have contracted the virus; respiratory damage has already emerged in patients. Our science team is actively investigating the permanent detrimental health effects on patients and have added them to our areas of focus for regenerative medicine research.

Due to the nature of our advanced stem cell collection and cryopreservation services, Acorn has resources to leverage in our joint fight against COVID-19. We have an ISO clean room laboratory and state-of-the-art equipment, and a fantastic team of scientists. We are currently exploring multiple ways that we can use our people and infrastructure to assist. I will be sharing more on this in the near future.

I feel immense pride being a part of a company like Acorn, especially during times like these. We are all in this together against COVID-19, and we are here to help and support each other through it. 

Be well,

Dr. Drew Taylor, PhD, MSc
Co-founder & CEO
Acorn Biolabs, Inc.

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
Two women learning about the benefits of banking stem cells at Acorn Biolabs booth in the National Womens Show Toronto 2019

Why young families should consider banking their child’s stem cells

The other week, the Acorn team attended the National Women’s Show in downtown Toronto.  A health tech company like ours that’s revolutionizing the way we collect stem cells through non-invasive means may not seem like the type of organization you’d expect to see at a show like this. But it was a no-brainer decision for us to attend. 

For starters, we can’t stress enough that banking your stem cells at a young age is far more beneficial than banking them when you’re older. Our cells age, just as we age, making them a poor therapeutic resource.  And as science innovates with advancements in stem cell therapies and genetics, in our lifetime we will see some of the biggest healthcare challenges of our generation solved with our own cells. Preparing for that future precision medicine means locking in your cells at their youngest and most viable.  

Until recently, umbilical cord stem cell banking had really been the only method for capturing these cells at the youngest age possible, but the procedure is complex and incredibly expensive. It was financially out of reach for most people wanting to bank their child’s cells. Only a very small percentage of those who could bank their child’s umbilical cord actually do.

With Acorn, our stem cell collection is done by simply plucking a few hair follicles from a person’s head - making stem cell collection accessible for everyone - not just at birth! That provides families with the option to bank their child’s cells at a young age without all the traditional complexities of umbilical cord banking. So from a marketing perspective, it made complete sense for Acorn to attend the women’s show and tell our story to women who are often the major decision-maker in a family when it comes to healthcare. We explained to them how big a role regenerative medicine will play in the future of healthcare, and that now is the right time to prepare for it. 

As a mother myself, I personally believe that banking stem cells will quickly become as important as saving for an RRSP in terms of my long-term well-being; and that banking my child’s stem cells will be as important as opening up an RESP for them. Parents want the best for their kids, and as stem cell therapy treatments become more mainstream in the years to come, banking their cells could be potentially life-saving. 

In fact, the global stem cell therapy industry is worth tens of billions of dollars, and governments around the world, including Canada’s, are taking proactive steps to ensure the safety and efficacy of these procedures. They’re making sure stem cell therapies adhere to the highest standards, and that patient safety is always paramount.

At Acorn, we’re far past the point of asking if regenerative medicine will be a dominant force in healthcare; we’re determining when. And so that’s why I believe it’s never too early to educate parents or those contemplating parenthood on the benefits of stem cell collection over the long term. It’s a biological insurance policy that will deliver access to leading medical care that none of us want to miss out on -- especially if it can improve the lives of our kids.

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.