February 08, 2007

Banking and Insuring Stem Cells

safegenome.pngThis week I blogged on CNE about the new public-private umbilical cord blood bank. The Virgin Health Bank may turn out more useful than we could possibly think today because of advances in regenerative medicine that enable new uses of stem cells. It could also become totally obsolete if the advances go so far that normal cells can be turned into stem cells. But in any case, it is breaking the assumed barrier between a for profit stem cell storage company and a public charity providing needed transplants. That is going to be good in any case.

This raises the interesting issue of gambling on future medical advances. Cryonics already does this in a spectacular and controversial fashion. Storing stem cells is a less radical gamble (we already know they can be useful for some things, but we don't know if they will ever prove useful for our particular maladies).

There are also fields where progress appears to have been reliable. Life expectancy has increased roughly linearly for over a century. The median age of survival in cystic fibrosis has increased from 6 months in 1959 to 36.8 years in 2006, and over 2002-2006 (4 years) 5 years of life were added - CF patients might have reached a breakeven point.

Might we use known areas of medical progress to bank on things that are currently not useful but will be useful in the future? Stem cells are an obvious choice, but there might be other tissues that could also be banked. Reproductory cells seem to be a low-hanging fruit given the ever more radical infertility treatments. Blood is already useful and might gain other uses in the future. Maybe we should start documenting our healthy metabolome, kineome and proteome when we are young, somehow. Having a backup never hurt.

Posted by Anders3 at February 8, 2007 11:44 PM