Adult Stem Cell Storage: Storing Youth for Later

Adult Stem Cell Storage: Storing Youth for Later

By Kris Barnes

Stem cell storage is the practice of extracting stem cells from their sources and storing them in cryogenic conditions. Cord blood stem cell “banks” consist of publicly shared banks of stem cells derived from umbilical cords. This industry is expected to continue to grow at a 20% annual growth rate from $1.9 billion currently to a 2021 value of $3.96 billion worldwide. One major drawback of these banks is that the extraction procedure but must be done at birth to be useful. There is a less well-known form of stem cell storage, however, which is slowly gaining popularity: stem cells harvested from adults.

What Are Stem Cells?

Stem cells serve as progenitors to more specialized cells that carry out functions for the body.  Embryonic stem (ES) cells originate from the early embryo. They are pluripotent: they can divide into any tissue present in an adult. Adult stem cells, on the other hand, can become a more limited range of tissues but manage to avoid the ethical and immune rejection issues raised by ES cells.

Two types of adult stem cells are currently foci of intense interest due to their ease of extraction and ability to transform into essential tissue: hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in bone marrow, and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in adipose tissue.  Adipose tissue is fairly easily extracted through liposuction techniques and contains high quantities of MSCs, which are able to differentiate into various tissues including bone, muscle, cartilage, neurons and glia. Bone marrow has long been extracted during transplants, and contains HSCs, which are the progenitors of the immune system and of red blood cells.  

In 1998, the initial isolation of ES cells created a potential regenerative medicine revolution, and over the past 19 years this has slowly come to fruition.  After chemotherapy, HSCs are sometimes used to treat blood cancers, and MSCs have shown some success in small-scale trials for cartilage regeneration and tissue repair in organs such as the lungs and heart. Stem cell therapies are just reaching the medical mainstream in the US, but analysts expect a bright future for such therapies. Grand View Research estimates that the stem cell industry will reach $170 billion by 2020, with adult stem cells leading the way.  Additionally, the acquisition, expansion and storage of stem cells is estimated to reach $10.9 billion under the same time frame.

Stem Cell Aging and the Life Extension Industry

The primary problem with the modest pace of stem cell research and integration into the clinical setting is that both stem cell quality and quantity decline sharply with age, since stem cells exhibit age-specific genetic and epigenetic alterations that are coupled with a gradual loss of function. In fact, stem cell depletion contributes to pathologies of aging. This can be a two-way street, however, as evidenced by studies where giving MSCs from young donors to old mice delayed aging and extended lifespan.

Targeting aging as a means of combating disease has become a serious topic over the past decade, with multiple biotech startups jumping into the field including Google with their Calico venture. Additionally, philanthropic organizations such as the Thiel Foundation are making aging a priority. Supplement companies such as Life Extension have seen success by targeted marketing to those aiming to extend life and health span. Just like these life extension technologies and strategies, stem cell storage appeals to this same deep human desire to stay young.

Current Market Landscape for Stem Cell Storage

At least 6 players currently make up roughly two thirds of the MSC storage market, including the UK company, Future Health Biobank, and US companies including American Cryostem, Adicyte, Adisave, Celltex and Vault Stem Cell. Most operate on a model with a roughly $1000 upfront processing fee followed by a yearly storage fee. Currently, these companies are still small but are rapidly expanding, with Cryostem seeing a near-doubling of revenue in 2016 from $400,000 to almost $800,000.

Their marketing focuses around the promise of stem cell therapies and the superiority of younger cells for treatment, with Adicyte, Vault Stem Cell and American Cryostem describing banking as necessary to preserve the quality of young cells for rejuvenation in the future. Future Health Biobank stresses the fact that MSC storage from adipose tissue offers adults “a unique opportunity to store their stem cells” as opposed to cord blood banks.

Given this focus on the importance of maintaining young stem cells and evidence that the quality of HSCs declines significantly with aging, along with proven extraction and storage techniques, one would expect the adult HSC storage industry to also have taken off. However, this is largely not the case. Vault Stem Cell suggests an interest in bone marrow-derived treatments, but offers no specifics. Silene Biotech (formerly miPS labs) takes a different approach, promising to store whole blood cells instead, with the aim of converting them to pluripotency later.


Current trends in research and biotech entrepreneurship along with increasing consumer interest in self preservation suggests that the future for personal adult stem cell storage is bright. Both scaling of current technologies and diversification of the field to include bone marrow and HSC storage will likely be necessary to meet demands as the industry progresses, but rapid growth is likely in the next 5 years and eager consumers can begin storing their MSCs today!

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