Seattle company allows blood donors to deep freeze cells for future medical technology
SEATTLE - Melissa Wasserman is used to getting stuck. She’s a regular donor of blood but, this trip to Bloodworks Northwest is not intend to save the life of another, but quite possibly her own in the future.
“My cells are not getting any younger, so collecting them now is kind of insurance,” said Wasserman.
Wasserman is one of the first official customers for Silene Biotech, a pharmaceutical-grade cell preservation service with a relatively simple idea. The intent is a long-term freezing of a customer’s blood, with the hope that scientists will develop cures to what ails us and the cells could then be thawed and used to heal ourselves.
“The older we get, our cells just get damaged and mutilated,” said Dr. Alex Jiao, co-founder and CEO of Silene Biotech. “We are looking right now to regenerate people’s bodies using stems cells and that’s incredible."
Work by scientists at the University of Washington to regenerate portions of the human heart is already showing some success.
Customers of Silene Biotech are banking their blood on the hope the stem cells can be used to regenerate portions of their own faulty organs or joints when the technology become available.
“While technology for regenerating people's body's and treating your diseases are still being developed we can preserve their cells today.” said Jiao “That way they will have a better opportunity to use their own cells for regenerative medicine or personalize therapies."
The process involves a low-volume blood draw. Silene Biotech then processes the blood then isolates the cells and freezes them in their Seattle lab. The blood is then sent to a long-term medical storage facility in Indianapolis, Ind.
The customer retains full ownership of their own cells and can retrieve or destroy them at any time. Customers can also opt in to have the cells used anonymously for scientific purposes.
Jiao said all personal information is kept confidential with Silene Biotech. There’s even a provision in case the company goes out of business.
“We prepay a lot of the storage costs, but if we go out of business and [the customer’s] storage is up, they have the ability to pay for the storage themselves,” said Jiao.
Wendy Riedy was one of the company’s early beta testers after she saw KOMO News’s initial story on Jiao’s idea more than a year ago.
“I thought why not, it can’t hurt and I’m not getting any younger,” said Riedy.
In the future, a person’s own stem cells could be used to reverse macular degeneration, which runs in Wendy’s family.
“My mother had both knees replaced,” said Riedy. “If I could not do that using my own stem cells, why would I not want to do that."
The younger the donor, the better shape the stem cells could be and likely free from pre-cancer factors said Jiao. So, Wendy convinced her daughter to bank her blood just in case.
“I’d like to have that option to utilize my own cells and helping my body heal itself,” said Riedy’s daughter, Chandler Batiste.
The company currently offers two payment options. There is a $50 annual payment plan with a one-time processing fee of $299. Or there’s one-time lifetime payment of $999.
Core blood storage via freezing is not a new concept. It’s been done for years for diagnostic reasons and large qualities can be frozen for future surgeries.
But, Jiao believes their niche will be smaller, affordable blood storage for future stem cell harvesting.
“The ethics come into play when you over-promise and you say there’s something today and it’s not,” said Jiao. “We definitely don’t do that."
Who better to help yourself in the future than yourself.
“I do hope that my own self will make me less miserable,” said Wasserman.