Thirty years ago, if someone had said that we would be able to harness and bank our own stem cells for the future use in regenerative treatments and therapies, they would likely have been laughed out of the room.
Fast-forward to the present day, and the notion is no longer absurd, but commonplace.
Although stem cell research began in the 1960s, with researchers infusing haematopoietic stem cells from adult human bone marrow into patients to treat conditions such as leukaemia and sickle cell anaemia, it was not until 1998 that researchers discovered additional stem cells in the tissues of the brain, muscle and skin.
The science has continued to develop into uses for regenerative medicine, in which researchers have used stem cells to regrow lung, cornea and trachea cells, and create other types of human tissue.
‘We’ve been using the technology for years in things like bone marrow donation and harvesting,’ says Vin Singh, Founder, President, and CEO of Next Healthcare, Inc. ‘But science and technology have developed to include peripheral blood stem cells, fat and skin cells, for conversion into iPS cells [induced pluripotent stem cells]. iPS cells offer a wide variety of possibilities, especially in cell replacement therapy and wound care, and possibly cosmetics. It is a flexible science.’
iPS cells are a type of pluripotent stem cell artificially derived from a non-pluripotent cell by inducing a forced expression of specific genes. They are similar to natural pluripotent stem cells in many ways, such as through the expression of certain stem cell genes and proteins. While their full potential is still being assessed, iPS have been made from adult stomach, liver, skin and blood cells.
It is the range of possibilities behind stem cell science that encouraged Singh to set up Next Healthcare, Inc., a biotechnology service that offers customers the opportunity to bank their skin and stem cells for use in future treatments and therapies.
An evolving field
Singh has worked in the stem cell and cell therapy industry for 18 years, is a bioscientist by qualification, and Next Healthcare, Inc. is his fourth start-up company, which was founded 4 years ago.
And although the company is solely based in the US at present, it has been banking cells from all over the world for physicians who have patients in a variety of locations.
With an aim to be the world’s leading enabler of personalised regenerative medicine and related healthcare solutions, the company is allowing people to use their own cells to treat disease and injury — something which is perhaps an ideal model for future healthcare applications, without the over-reliance on pharmaceuticals.
And perhaps more importantly, the stem cells can be generated from adult cells, avoiding questions over the use of foetal stem cells, which has made the science seem so controversial to many.
‘It is an evolving space,’ Singh explains. ‘But only one stem cell product is actually approved for use in the US — Hemacord — although hundreds of clinical trials are currently ongoing. One of the problems is with regard to data and building our knowledge around this. However, we are currently looking for partners to work with in gathering data for the science.’
One of the newer services that Next Healthcare, Inc. offers is called CelBank-Ad, which deals with adipose-derived stem cells, and of course, fat is a good source for stem cells.
According to Singh, with physicians doing more and more in-office procedures, it is possible to bank this tissue for patients and their future cosmetic procedures, such as lipofilling.
It is certainly no secret that stem cells are now often used for dermatological purposes, as well as for skin rejuvenation and soft tissue augmentation, such as through dermal filler applications and scar-free face lifts. Indeed, the potential for wound repair and tissue regeneration is vast and unlimited, with the technology being used to treat acute surgical excisions and burn patients undergoing excision and autografting, for example.
One specific application in cosmetic dermatology is LAVIV (azficel-T) from Fibrocell Science. LAVIV works by isolating, purifying and multiplying a patient’s own collagen-producing fibroblast cells to smooth out wrinkles, and nasolabial folds in particular. The fibroblast sample is taken from behind the patient’s ear, multiplied in cell culture, and then injected by the physician into the nasolabial folds. While there are many ‘copy-cat’ treatments attempting to enter the market, LAVIV is the first that has been FDA-approved for aesthetic uses.
Continued development of science and research
The science, technology and extensive research behind the use of stem cells in aesthetic and regenerative medicine show no signs of resting just yet, as researchers continually strive to invest in new products and develop the science further. Likewise, Vin Singh and Next Healthcare, Inc. plan to continue building the business and expanding first to Canada, followed by the European and Asian markets, and to promote the company with scientific, peer-reviewed, published data.
Singh believes that such data for stem cell science as a whole will focus more on applications in orthopaedics and cardiovascular disease, as well as personalised genome sequencing and the prediction of future health outcomes.
And for the future of skincare, Singh expects that topical products will start to harness plant- and human-derived growth factors and enzymes. However, more data will be needed with regard to human-derived stem cell topicals but regardless, it is clear that the use of tissue from you to you, will continue to grow to offer a natural way to reverse the clock, as well as aid in the treatment of illness and disease.