Regenerative medicine — the idea of generating new cells to replace damaged body tissues and organs — hasn’t gone mainstream yet. But miPS Labs says it’s never too early to start planning for what could be the next big wave in the treatment of disease.
The Seattle startup is about to launch a closed beta that will let people freeze a sample of their cells now, so they’re ready to go whenever scientists figure out how to use those cells to grow human tissues, like a new heart.
Alex Jiao, miPS co-founder and University of Washington bioengineering PhD candidate, says the whole idea might sound like science fiction, but it’s closer than many think. Researchers have been moving down the path toward regenerative medicine for decades now, and the technology is starting to reach clinical trials.
The breakthrough is centered around induced pluripotent stem, or iPS, cells. These are reprogrammed adult cells that act like embryonic cells, with the ability to form different types of body tissues.
The problem, Jiao explains, is that adult cells become less effective for iPS reprogramming as people age, which can lead to less-efficient reprogramming and mutations in the iPS cells. So miPS is offering to freeze your cells today, preserve them for however long it takes, and then hand your own younger cells over to doctors whenever they’re able to put them to good use.
The company is just getting started with $50,000 in initial funding and some lab space on the UW campus.
Other co-founders of miPS are Jenna Strully, a physician who recently received her MBA from the University of Washington Foster School of Business; Ned Whalen, a University of Washington student majoring in finance and accounting; and Rob Thomas a product marketing manager who has helped to launch products for Amazon and Samsung.
Anyone in the Seattle area who wants to be part of the company’s closed beta while it figures out all the logistics can apply online. If selected, the company will send a noninvasive collection kit to your home.
The company hasn’t figured out all the pricing details, but it plans to one day charge about $300 to process and freeze your cells. After that, there will be an annual storage fee of $20 to $25. For the beta it’s launching now, however, the company is just going to charge a reduced one-time fee to get started.
“Basically, while these larger biotech and pharmaceutical companies are working on creating the therapies and delivering them to the patient directly, we’re focused on the backend,” Jiao said. “That’s getting the cells from the patient initially while they’re younger and to freeze them to prevent aging.”