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HARVESTING

To Bank or Not to Bank? 
3 Things to Consider While Researching
Stem Cell Banking

ONE: Bio-banking is not inherently "bio-insurance."

 

Biobanking is “the process by which samples of bodily fluid or tissue are collected for research use to improve our understanding of health and disease” (healthtalk). As the uses of stem cells continue to expand and safety and efficacy are better understood, underlying services—such as long term storage and banking of stem cells—are beginning to become more available to the public, as opposed to services reserved for research organizations. This is a huge step for living beyond your genetics, but there are cautions to be shared.

 

Patients should consider “getting ahead” and preparing for future regenerative medicine treatments by banking their cells now while they’re healthy, especially if they believe that they may be susceptible to serious disease or chronic conditions. Storage and banking services expand the opportunities to lock in your cells’ biological age and eliminate the waiting time before treatment with your own cells when you need it, allowing you to more easily access FDA expanded-use programs (right to try and compassionate use), and preparing you for immediate therapy upon approval.

 

Using a banking strategy is important for reducing secondary health risks and additional costs associated with cell harvesting for each treatment when developing a long-term cellular therapy plan for disease mitigation, regenerative therapy, and wellness treatments. The ability to have banked samples of your own cells readily available will reduce the average cost of each treatment over the course of multiple treatments, and eliminate the opportunities for cell rejection or graft versus host disease if used for a stem cell transplant (a much more extensive and complicated use rather than for regenerative treatments), the most serious potential side effects that can result from using donor cells. However, many medical organizations warn that the bio-banking of one's own stem cells should not be considered "bio-insurance," or a guarantee that they will solve future run-ins with serious illness. The biggest factor in this warning is the nature of various bio-banking or bio-preservation models: public, private, or hybrid.

TWO: public VS. private biobanks: THEY may change your strategy

It’s important to determine what you’re willing and able to pay for stem cell harvesting and treatments. Because insurance won’t cover anything except stem cells obtained through bone marrow transplants, often for certain predetermined conditions, the costs can run from free (in certain trials) to quite expensive. 

 

Different methods have different costs, ranging from as “little” as $3,000 per treatment to approximately $20,000 (and more, given specific treatment types and patient needs) for a liposuction, stem cell harvesting, processing, and expansion to obtain one’s first 150 million autologous adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells. In many cases, liposuction is the most cost-effective option for obtaining autologous mesenchymal stem cells, which can be multiplied in the lab readily, offering more bang for the buck.

 

You will also want to research who you plan to bank with and understand the packages/offers that they bring to the table. On top of the cost of the initial harvest and processing, how much will you be paying (and how often will you be paying that amount) for the continued hosting of your samples? It’s vital here to also understand how your cells are being stored. Public banking models can be very budget-friendly or even free, making them very attractive to patients who are trying to harvest and create their “bio-insurance” healthspan strategy on a budget. The issue, however, is that public banking models often require that the donor relinquish ownership of their cells to the banking organization. Much like our normal banks or insurance policies, your cells are the “money” entering a larger pool of preserved stem cells and could be given to anyone in need of a stem cell transplant, looking to “withdraw” or “cash in” on a claim, so to speak. Because of this, your samples may not be available if and when you need them. Sure, there may be other donor cells available from the banking organization in your hour of need, but if your goal is specifically to heal your body using your own cells—therefore completely eradicating the low risk of rejection or hidden illnesses/side effects—then this option becomes significantly less attractive.

 

Private banking models, on the other hand, offer more control and ownership of your stem cells, but come at a higher cost in both up-front (usually shipping costs of up to $3,000) and storage fees (approximately $500/year). When you are considering your options and budget, don’t forget to include the length of time that you are willing or able to store your cells at this cost and if that makes the most sense for your healthspan strategy.

THREE: Bio-banking is not inherently "bio-insurance."

Many medical organizations view this point as a warning to emerging biobanking businesses, advising that it is in their best interest to develop comprehensive policies  surrounding preservation in order to save themselves from potential legal and/or ethical backlash. Most importantly, there is stress on establishing clear ownership of the biospecimen as well as regulation or specifications regarding the disposal of cells—when, how, and why? 

 

This is all necessary work, but my focus here on Beyond Genetics is of your interests as a patient. To begin, how accessible and attentive is the bank that you’re considering working with? Is it relatively easy to get a hold of a representative who can answer your questions? Are the answers that they offer detailed and clear? As they’re informing you about their packages and policies, are they blowing past key points or taking their time to ensure that you are understanding and (most importantly) consenting to the full scope of the process you are embarking upon? From collection, to processing, to storage—have they given you all of the tools that you need to be as informed a consumer as possible while establishing trust and credibility? This includes highlighting both the benefits and the risks associated, not just selling you the dream healthspan strategy you’re looking for or telling you everything you want to hear.

 

Further, ensure that you are clear on who owns your cells and decides how they can be utilized; never be afraid to ask questions regarding anything from how missed storage payments are handled or who ownership would transition to in the scenario that the original donor passes away. Things change quickly in the healthspan world—new studies, innovative methods, and products seem to surface daily. With that will come evolving ethical and legal questions overtime. I ask you to view this as a starting point for an improved lifespan, one that involves you in an ongoing discussion about regenerative possibilities and the evolving field of healthspan science, and I encourage you to talk to your doctor and do your own research before you try any treatment discussed here.

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