A service that extracts stem cells from adult blood and stores it has been given approval for the first time by the regulatory body the Human Tissue Authority.
Until now it has only been possible to store stem cells for babies that have taken from umbilical cord and many parents have taken advantage of this to provide their children with the potential for stem cell treatments in the future. The new service, called Oristem, claims adults can now take advantage of the same potential advances in stem cell treatments.
It is likely to attract people who have a family history of hereditary medical conditions as well as members of the so called "worried well" who want to ensure they have the option to use such treatments should they need them in the future.
The companies behind the project, which charges £2,495 to collect and store the stem cells in cryogenic freezers for 20 years, have begun taking the blood samples from their first clients after being given a regulatory licence to store the cells.
Athol Haas, chief executive of Pharmacell, one of the three companies behind the service, said: "Most of the clients who have made pre-orders ahead of the licence being approved are either expecting to suffer from a hereditary degenerative disease or they understand that having this form of biological insurance is a good thing."
The service uses cells known as blastocyst-like stem cells that are found circulating in human blood. These are unspecialised cells that can develop into many different types of tissue in the body.
Currently no stem cell therapy exists that can use these types of cells for treating diseases. The companies behind the Oristem, however, believe that as researchers develop new techniques and new technology, it will be possible to use these stem cells for treating diseases including stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Researchers also hope that it will be possible at some point to use stored stem cells to grow new organs for patients. Last year doctors were able to build a new windpipe for a Colombian woman using her own stem cells before transplanting it into her.
There are also hopes that stem cells could provide treatments for major causes of blindness such as macular degeneration and provide ways of repairing damaged heart tissue and blood vessels.
Mr Haas said: "Although there is no specific therapy exists that uses these stem cells yet, we expect that to change in the next couple of years and are actively working towards that.
"These cells are pre-differentiated and so have the potential to become many different cell types in the body. So far we have developed 90 different cell types from these stem cells."
Clients hoping to take advantage of the new stem cell bank will have to give around three fluid ounces of blood which is then treated to extract around 10 billion stem cells. These are then stored in small vials that are frozen at -112 degrees F for at least 80 years.
Graeme Purdy, chief executive of Ilika, the company that oversees the extraction of the stem cells, said: "We are guaranteeing that we can store the cells for at least 20 years and they will remain viable. We are not sure if they will still be viable beyond that, but if they are then we will store them for longer."
Source: The Telegraph