Updated: Oct 6, 2022
For our first blog post of 2022, I want to share with you a story of strength, courage, and perseverance, but most of all, a story of hope.
Hope Biosciences is the first facility in the US to offer stem cell banking services for both adults and newborns. We source the stem cells from fat for adults and from placenta tissue for newborns. While many of our adult bankers go on to receive stem cell treatments in clinical trials through the Hope Biosciences Stem Cell Research Foundation (HBSCRF), our newborn banking service is meant as a safeguard, to provide parents with peace of mind that if their child should ever need stem cell treatments in the future, they will be readily available.
But what about parents seeking immediate stem cell treatment for their child that doesn’t already have their stem cells banked? Typically, we wait until the child is 13 years old before we consider them for stem cell banking. Rarely, in life threatening circumstances, we will consider taking fat from a young child.
Early last year, we met a Houston-based family searching for anything that could help their 1-year-old child. He was born with an aggressive form of congenital muscular dystrophy (CMD), a degenerative muscle disease for which there is no specific treatment or cure. The team at the HBSCRF promptly went to work securing FDA approval for an Expanded Access study aimed at treating CMD with stem cells. With the study approved, the question then became, will we even be able to obtain enough fat from an 18-month-old child to successfully isolate any stem cells?
Normally, in order for someone to have their stem cells banked with us, they must first undergo a minor mini liposuction procedure in which a small amount of fat tissue is removed and collected in a syringe. About a tablespoon worth of fat is ideal for obtaining an adequate number of stem cells for an initial cell culture. A very small number of cells are present at first, but through our proprietary process, we can produce millions of pure, undifferentiated stem cells, identical to the ones originally isolated.
Unfortunately, in this instance, because the fat was to be removed from a very young child with a very small amount of body fat, the traditional fat removal procedure could not be performed. His fat had to be removed using a different method, which yielded a significantly less amount of fat than our process usually requires. The fat sample we received for processing was less than the size of a tic tac, but we were determined to make it work.
As a stem cell manufacturing technician at Hope Biosciences, I’ve now witnessed and performed our fat processing procedure countless times. It’s a standardized procedure performed on all incoming fat samples for the purpose of isolating the mesenchymal stem cells from the fat so they can be grown and eventually banked. If you take a look back at one of our earlier blog posts on Adipose Tissue Processing, you can learn in greater detail what this process entails.
With that said, processing this particular sample certainly wasn’t going to be just another run-of-the-mill fat processing procedure. We knew it would be a challenge, and we were ready to take it on. All of the lab technicians at Hope Biosciences understand and appreciate the importance of what we do every day, because for a lot of our bankers with incurable conditions, stem cell treatments are their last hope. We had a family counting on us and we only had one chance to get it right.
We received the fat sample on June 8, 2021 and went straight to work processing the miniscule amount of tissue, taking great care to ensure we would successfully isolate stem cells from it. When the processing procedure was over, we placed the initial cell culture flask in the incubator and then, all we could was hope…. and wait.
And wait. And wait some more. Anxiously, we examined the flask under the microscope every single day, intently searching for any signs of cell growth. For two weeks, we saw nothing. But we refused to lose hope.
Finally, on the 14th day, we witnessed a miracle. A small colony of cells was present in the flask, and they were healthy, and quickly growing and multiplying!
From there, his stem cells continued to grow exponentially and on July 23, 2021, the entire banking process was complete! A master cell bank was officially ready for our youngest adipose-derived MSC banker to benefit from!
On January 21, 2022, HBSCRF’s youngest patient received his first infusion of his very own stem cells. A pediatric nurse, familiar with the HBSCRF after participating in a clinical trial himself, volunteered to administer the first dose.
To say it was an emotional day for everyone would be an understatement.Only through the dedicated joint efforts of so many individuals from both Hope Biosciences and the HBSCRF was this moment made possible. It is in these moments that we are reminded of what our work here is truly for, and that is creating hope.
It is endlessly rewarding to work for a company whose technology makes things like this possible. I played a part in providing a new sense of hope to a family that thought they had run out of options for saving their little boy. I have the privilege of walking into the lab each day, knowing that my work will have a direct and positive impact on so many people’s lives. I can’t think of a better way to spend my days.
Written by Maegan Rysso, Production technician at Hope Biosciences®