Can this startup stop aging? Give it your stem cells and find out

Forever Labs CEO Steven Clausnitzer; clients Dan Dascalescu and Max Marty; and Forever Labs president Mark Katakowski pose in a clinic in Orinda. Dascalescu and Marty hold stem cells that have been extracted from their bone marrow. (Forever Labs)

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Forever Labs CEO Steven Clausnitzer; clients Dan Dascalescu and Max Marty; and Forever Labs president Mark Katakowski pose in a clinic in Orinda. Dascalescu and Marty hold stem cells that have been extracted from their bone marrow. (Forever Labs)

Who they are: Forever Labs

What they do: Harvest and preserve your stem cells

Why it's cool: Scientists have been chasing the "fountain of youth" for centuries. Now a startup backed by Silicon Valley-based accelerator Y Combinator says it may be within reach of that utopian goal. Forever Labs, based in Michigan, is researching therapies that would use your own stem cells to treat age-related diseases like Alzheimer's, stroke and cardio vascular disease. But the ultimate goal is to take it one step further.

“What we’re most excited about is the ability to use these cells potentially to treat aging itself,” said founder and CEO Steven Clausnitzer.

In the meantime, Forever Labs is getting its potential patients ready. Because young stem cells are better candidates for these therapies than older ones, Forever Labs is harvesting clients’ stem cells, freezing them and storing them for use once the patients age or get sick.

The stem cells are taken from a patient’s bone marrow — a process that Clausnitzer swears is a simple, 15-minute, outpatient procedure. Then the cells are stored at low temperatures in liquid nitrogen in a facility in Massachusetts.

Stem cells are unique because they have the ability to morph into a range of different cell types, depending on what the body needs. Once injected into a patient, they can travel to the damaged or sick organ or system and start repairing the tissue. If injected into an aging but otherwise healthy patient, Clausnitzer suspects they may be able to rejuvenate the person’s blood, bones and immune system, which could provide a range of benefits. He uses his grandfather as an example — the elderly man’s health deteriorated after he fell and broke his tail bone, but if he had younger bones, that fall might not have caused so much damage.

The service isn’t cheap. Forever Labs charges $2,500 to extract the stem cells, and $250 a year to store them. Alternatively, clients can pay $7,000 up front for the extraction and lifetime storage.

There’s some evidence that stem cells may hold the key to fight aging, but researchers have a long way to go before they can prove that theory in humans. Scientists recently were able to slow aging in older mice by implanting stem cells into their brains. And some patients have had success treating macular degeneration — an age-related eye disease — with stem cells. But others in Florida reported blindness after undergoing the procedure, highlighting the dangers of these experimental therapies.

“The range of diseases for which there are proven treatments based on stem cells is still extremely small,” the International Society for Stem Cell Research cautions in its patient handbook. “Disorders of the blood and immune system and acquired loss of bone marrow function can, in some cases, be treated effectively with blood stem cell transplantation.”

Where they stand: Since launching two years ago, Forever Labs has extracted and stored stem cells from 150 people. The company has more clients in the San Francisco area than anywhere else, and while the interest started with techies, Clausnitzer said his clients now come from all walks of life. Forever Labs does cater to the tech crowd, though, and recently gave a talk at Google’s Mountain View headquarters.

As Forever Labs continues to test stem cell therapies on animals, in preparation for starting treatment on humans (pending FDA approval), the company also is working on expanding its reach. The startup currently has doctors doing stem cell extraction in nine states, and by this time next year, Clausnitzer hopes to have a presence in every major U.S. market.

To learn more visit foreverlabs.com.

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