Could freezing your stem cells save your life? Fat chance.

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For years new parents have had to decide if they want to save their baby’s cord blood because it is rich in stem cells and could, theoretically, be used later to help the child if they develop diseases like leukemia. Now there’s a new twist to this idea, with clinics offering to store fat from adults and use that in the same way. For a price.

Companies like Forever Labs and Cells on Ice offer to do mini-liposuctions on patients and then bank those fat cells so they can be used at some future point to cure whatever might ail that person. Forever Labs also offers the option of taking blood stem cells from your bone marrow. The claim is that these stem cells, whether from fat or blood, could be injected back into the person to combat everything from orthopedic injuries to diabetes and even, one day, Alzheimer’s.

Both companies have impressive looking websites that state things like

“Your stem cells grow older as you do.” And that by storing them now “you have a reserve of your own young stem cells for future use.”

Sounds great. There’s just one problem. There’s no evidence these cells can do that. One day in the future it’s possible they might. Maybe. But right now you will be paying thousands of dollars for someone to keep your frozen fat in a refrigerator.

The sites say by storing your cells now, when you are say, 30 years old, they’ll be younger and healthier than if you are relying on your cells when you are in your 50’s or 60’s. Taking them out now means you’ll have a bank of healthy young cells ready to use in the future.

But is that really true? There are a few, small, studies that suggest there may be some evidence to support that notion but they are using cells from young donors taken just before being transplanted into older patients. These are not cells that have sat in a refrigerator for years or even decades. Other scientists have criticized these studies as being poorly designed and producing flawed results.

One thing everyone agrees on, there is no harm in taking your fat and putting it on ice for years. The only thing it will hurt is your wallet. Forever Labs charges $1,500 to collect and freeze your fat cells (bone marrow cells are an additional $1,000), with a yearly storage fee of $250.

 

 

 

 

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