There’s no such thing as the fountain of youth. There is, however, science, and the possibilities that stem cell research offers. By Basia Chow
This was the stuff of science-fiction not too long ago.
But since Dolly the sheep started to take the ‘fiction’ out of ‘sci-fi’ there have been tentative steps taken in the quest for immortality, or at least a longer lifespan.
Science fiction has moved into real life, and now stem cell technology promises not just to make us look and feel younger, but also to accelerate the natural healing properties in our skin. The best part is, this flurry of scientific innovation and development is being headed by a home-grown corporation.
Gavin Tan is the co-founder and chief executive of CellResearch. Tan is big and friendly. His large presence is matched by a voice that carries across the room. In a life filled with large actions, the former finance industry man has chosen to focus on the tiny stem cell.
Stem cells are curious things. They are undifferentiated cells which live in our body, meaning they don’t carry out specific bodily functions, quite unlike specialised cells (e.g. blood or muscle cells). But the usefulness of stem cells lie in their potential to morph into new, healthy versions of our specialised cells.
But not all stem cell types are capable of such feats of replication. Tissue-specific stem cells can only take on the characteristics of certain specialised cell types. But pluripotent stem cells, commonly found in human embryos, are able to replicate any and all cells and tissues, which means we can theoretically regenerate all damaged areas of our physiques.
Stem cell technology has huge market and research potential, which has brought about notable breakthroughs in the scientific arena. In 2012, Shinya Yamanaka and John B. Gurdon were awarded the Nobel Prize for creating Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (IPS). They are normal adult cells which have been converted to pluripotent stem cells and can take on the properties of any cell and tissue type, sharing the same properties as the stem cells controversially harvested at the embryonic stage. In the medical field, stem cell transplants are currently being conducted through bone-marrow operations for blood-related diseases like leukaemia, where new, healthy red blood cells are produced to make up for the patient’s lack of them.
The next frontier of stem cell research is the development of stem cell “platform technology”. This technology provides a pristine base from which a diverse array of treatments can be customised, to heal specific diseases. Scientists are also attempting to put the knowledge gained from stem cell research to practical use, shifting from laboratories to medical applications of stem cell treatments in hospitals and clinics.
CellResearch has charted a course through cord banking and third-party research work, and like many start-ups, the formative years were rocky. But in a timely stroke of good fortune, the discovery that stem cells could be found in umbilical cords, helped the company turn the corner in a big way. That was the critical catalyst for the business, enshrined in a mother patent that covered all cord-derived stem cells worldwide.
With the launch of their luxury, anti-aging cosmeceutical product, Calecim, as well as the future release of their pièce de résistance, Advanced Woundcare, Gavin is expecting the business to be “humming” in five years.
What results have bringing technology and cells together borne?
GAVIN TAN: Advanced Woundcare will be the jewel in the crown. It was created from the combined efforts of researchers who have used our technology. Advanced Woundcare uses stem cells which sit on your skin, generating soup which tricks your cells into thinking that they are young and healthy. So your skin begins to regenerate as quickly and effectively as it did when you were a child. In our clinical trials, this has proven to work for wounds which are incredibly difficult to heal, like radiotherapy wounds. We treated an 82-year-old man with a chronic diabetic wound that was open for three years. His wound was closed in 45 days.
We’ve spoken to BigPharma, who suggested the pricing be $10,000 for Advanced Woundcare per dose. But we disagree with this. Our dream is to get Advanced Woundcare into every hospital which needs it, and to make it as affordable as possible. If I can make a 10 by 10 bandage for US$150, why does it have to cost the end user $10,000? Rich people don’t get burnt. Poor people do, with open stoves. We’re funding this ourselves, with the help of a group of investors, to get this through USFDA in five years.
Read the full interview in the coming issue of STORM V27 out in bookshops in June.