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Online Extra: Want To Bank Your Own Stem Cells?

On a warm April afternoon, Denis Rodgerson is lounging in a leather chair at a Los Angeles medical office and watching as blood flows out one arm and into a giant, whirring centrifuge machine. Rodgerson is the co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based NeoStem, a company that allows consumers to store their own stem cells -- just in case they need them someday. Rodgerson decided it was about time he take himself up on his own sales pitch. "I have no doubt anybody will be able to use their stem cells for an array of treatments we're not even thinking about yet," he says, as the machine click-clacks by his side.
/ Source: Business Week

On a warm April afternoon, Denis Rodgerson is lounging in a leather chair at a Los Angeles medical office and watching as blood flows out one arm and into a giant, whirring centrifuge machine. Rodgerson is the co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based NeoStem, a company that allows consumers to store their own stem cells -- just in case they need them someday. Rodgerson decided it was about time he take himself up on his own sales pitch. "I have no doubt anybody will be able to use their stem cells for an array of treatments we're not even thinking about yet," he says, as the machine click-clacks by his side.

It's no wonder Rodgerson wants to store a few of his own, considering all the headlines of late about the potential power of stem cells. Apr. 12: San Diego biotech determines that adult stem cells taken from fat tissue can grow into heart cells. Apr. 29: German neurologist discovers bone-marrow cells can be converted into brain-stem cells. May 1: Michigan dentistry professor says stem cells taken from adult teeth may help people suffering from Parkinson's disease.

ROUND TRIP NeoStem was founded on the premise that stem cells from bone marrow will ultimately prove to be the most useful tools for prompting regeneration. Many scientists believe that these cells may be able to be programmed to turn into many different types of tissues, including heart muscle and neurons. Early research has produced mixed results, and potential therapies could take decades to hit the market. Still, Rodgerson believes the evidence is good enough to make stem-cell banking a salable proposition.

Here's NeoStem's pitch in a nutshell: Have your cells removed for $4,700. Store them for $300 a year. Retrieve them sometime in the future, when some part of your body breaks down. Presumably by then, science will have figured out how to use your own cells to revive what's gone.

For Rodgerson, the process of banking his own cells was long, but painless. First he was given a drug that instructed his bone marrow to make more stem cells. Then he sat for three hours while the machine took his blood, separated out the stem cells that were cast out from the bone marrow, and then sent the blood back into his other arm. His cells were later mixed with a preservative and frozen in liquid nitrogen. Rodgerson believes NeoStem's storage procedure will keep the cells good for the average lifetime of any patient.

"SO EASY." But will it sell? Rodgerson knows from experience that making a business out of storage isn't easy. In 1999, he founded StemCyte, which banks umbilical cord blood -- another rich source of stem cells that can be used in some patients who need bone marrow transplants, but who can't find suitable donors. StemCyte is still around, but it's struggling, he says, because it's having trouble financing the storage.

He hopes that NeoStem's monthly subscription model will provide a more effective way of covering overhead. NeoStem is also pitching the idea to insurance companies and corporate benefits officers, in the hopes that they'll foot the bill for some patients.

An hour into his own stem-cell extraction, Rodgerson says he's fine. "I feel a tingling in my lips and fingers. Otherwise this is so easy." If only the task of turning adult stem cells in powerful regenerative tools could be so simple.