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Designer Stem Cells

By K.S. Mitchell
Posted On May 04, 2012

Waiting for the ultimate face cream? Wait no longer. A new product uses your own cells to turn back the clock.

By: J.P. Faber

At first blush, it sounds like science fiction. A doctor removes a small amount of fat from somewhere on your body—somewhere you don’t want it, like your love handles—then ships it to a special cryogenic processing and storage lab. There, stem cells are extracted from your fat and frozen, but not before some are multiplied and used to create a designer skin care line “just for you.”

This is not science fiction, however. It’s the method behind one of the boldest new forays into regenerative medicine for cosmetic purposes, the “U” skin care line from Personal Cell Sciences (PCS), which uses a client’s own stem cells to create a unique skin care line for each individual.

The “U” line works by using the healing and regenerative power of stem cells, special cells that have the ability to become other cells in your body or to make these other cells repair and renew themselves.

For years it was believed that human stem cells existed only in the embryo or in bone marrow. A little over a decade ago, however, it was discovered that lots of stem cells were also found in your fat. These so-called “adult stem cells” were revealed in the late 1990s after New York surgeon Dr. Sydney Coleman noticed that the skin of his patients kept improving after he carefully injected fat to restore their facial volume.

It was this observation—that the skin where Dr. Coleman injected the fat kept looking younger—which prompted numerous companies to launch what they called stem cell face creams. Over the last couple of years a flurry of these creams have come onto the market, using everything from sheep stem cells to apple stem cells—one reason that PCS came into being.

“Why would I want to use the stem cells of another species?” asks microbiologist Dr. Burt Ensley, the lead scientist for PCS. “You should at least use your own species. Better yet, you should use your own stem cells.”

That is just what PCS does. Once a client’s fat has been sent to the cryogenic lab—in this case the facilities of New Jersey-based American CryoStem Corporation—it goes through a process whereby the fat is broken down and the stem cells removed. A portion of these stem cells is then stored (frozen) for your future use and the balance sent to the PCS cosmetic lab. There they are put into a proprietary culture and multiplied. From these millions of stem cells special proteins called cytokines (growth factors) are extracted. These growth factors, which act as messengers telling other cells to repair themselves, go into a PCS skin care line designed just for you. Apply to your face and voila, the skin starts to rejuvenate.

Nothing Like the Real Thing

The innovator behind PCS is John Arnone, the company’s founder as well as the CEO of AmericanCryostem Corporation, one of the premier facilities in the country for freezing stem-cell rich adipose tissue (fat). Arnone and his investors had already put millions of dollars into American Cryostem in order to preserve stem cells for future medical use by patients, based on the fact that stem cells are more potent when they are younger. Then Arnone had his ‘ah-ha’ moment.

“I looked around and saw all these stem cell face creams, and discovered that most of them didn’t have any stem cells in them,” he says. “All they had were ingredients that claimed to stimulate the stem cells to regenerate your tissue… or they had stem cells from plants, or fish, or sheep.”

Arnone began working with Dr. Ensley, who had been one of the original scientists with Amgen, now one of today’s top biotechnology firms. Among other things, Dr. Ensley holds 19 U.S. patents, including several for something called Tropoelastin, a bio-identical copy of elastin, the protein responsible for our skin’s ability to stretch and return to its normal shape. Ensley was developing a skin cream application for tropoelastin, which he was using for wound healing.

“When I reviewed Dr. Ensley’s research, it seemed to me that wrinkles and lines on your face were just like wounds on your skin,” says Arnone. “I thought combining the elastin with the stem cell growth factors would create something powerful and unique for baby boomers who are at that point in life where they look in the mirror and see age creeping up.”

PCS is not the only company that is using human growth factors to enhance skin creams. Arizona-based Novo is another such firm, which uses the platelet rich plasma (PRP) from cord blood—the blood remaining in the umbilical cord after birth—for their skin cream. This is likewise collected by cryogenic storage facilities that save the blood for its red blood cells then get rid of the leftover yellow PRP fluid.

“There are huge amounts of growth factors in this fluid,” says Dr. Mark Engelman, the chief science office for NOVO. These factors are what signal other cells to renew, and in the case of skin, to produce more collagen, the protein that supports skin. “Cells need to be told what to do. On their own they know nothing,” says Dr. Engelman, whose firm has conducted double-blind research at Northwestern University to prove that growth factors actually induce skin cells to manufacture new collagen.

Other companies, such as Jeunesse (Luminesce) and Invitrx (ReLuma), use human stem cells, which they reproduce and then break down for their growth factors. What distinguishes Arnone and PCS is that they use your own stem cells and your own growth factors, not someone—or something—else’s.