This week on the podcast, we have two very special guests, Mark Katakowski and Steven Clausnitzer from Forever Labs.
Forever Labs makes it easy to bank your stem cells so that you can use them later in your life to help fight age-related diseases. I was lucky enough to bank my stem cells recently and so I’m excited to talk with Mark and Steven to learn more about Forever Labs, stem cell research, and the book that influenced their work.
What is Forever Labs?
Steven: At Forever Labs we’ll store your stem cells so you can live healthier, longer. The reason it matters is as you age you lose these cells and the ones that remain become damaged and less effective and that decrease in number and function accelerates with age. The longer you kick that can, you said a year, the longer you kick that can the faster the decline is occurring. It’s important stuff. There are over 700 clinical trials using these cells to treat various age-related diseases, like cardiovascular disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis, et cetera. The problem is once you need those cells to treat yourself and you’ve aged they’re no longer as effective as they would’ve been if you banked them when you were younger. That’s what we do and why we do it. Mark, you want to add to that?
Mark Katakowski: Sure. In a nutshell, as you get older, your cells do. That’s the reason you grow older is that your cells actually age. It’s not just some kinda macro thing, it actually starts at a subtle level. But you can actually take youth and you can preserve it to be used later in life and we do that by cryo preservation.
I guess expanding on that, this all kinda started in 2001 when I started doing my Ph.D. research in Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. We started using these stem cells that we bank for the treatment of stroke in mice and rats and we found they’re very efficacious, but then over the next 15 years of developing these therapies in the lab, we became acutely aware that they degrade, the cells actually degrade in therapeutic qualities as the animals get older and the same thing happens in humans.
We worked together on a few projects for almost a decade and a half of that too and I said to Steve, I was like, “I want to bank my stem cells. I’m turning 40 and I want to bank my stem cells,” and he was like, “What are you talking about?” And that’s where it started. Just telling him why, Steve was like, “That sounds like something I’d like to do,” and that’s where the whole Forever Labs came from.
Where did you first learn of the benefits of stem cell banking on aging?
Mark Katakowski: Oh yeah, this is something that first hand I learned the difference between young and old cells because I was using them both in mice and rat but also human cells to develop therapies using them for mostly neurology like stroke and brain injury and things like that. Yeah, I learned first hand that these cells were degrading with age and losing their therapeutic efficacy and I was like, “Wait a minute, we do cord blood banking now when kids are born.” Now it’s pretty fairly popular that there are stem cells in umbilical cord blood and companies offer the ability to cryopreserve them to retain those youthful valuable cells. I was like, “Why aren’t we doing this for everybody?” That’s where it kinda came from.
Did other companies allow stem cell banking before Forever Labs?
Steven: No, so we got off that phone call and he really mentioned this out of nowhere. The conversation had nothing with us trying to start a company or anything like that. We left the call committed to the fact that we wanted to get these cells out of us. One of the steps I took was to reach out to a friend of ours named Dr. Laith Farjo, he’s an orthopedic surgeon, trained at Michigan, fantastic guy, and asked him about whether or not he’d be willing to take out our bone marrow and it turns out that orthopedic surgeons and sports medicine doctors all across the country were already doing this. What they do is they take out someone’s bone marrow, they concentrate the number of nuclear cells right at the point of care and they introduce it into the injury area.
So let’s say you have a bad knee. They’ll take out your bone marrow, concentrate your cells, introduce it into your knee. This is happening all over the U.S., phenomenal physicians everywhere are doing it but nobody was banking the cells. So once he told me that, Dr. Farjo, that’s when the light bulb went off and I realized there’s this infrastructure that exists but nobody’s taking advantage of it to store these cells so you can have access to it later in life and that’s … And Dr. Farjo, by the way, joined us and is our chief medical officer now and that’s when Forever Labs was really born is when we did that.
I always say the company was born out of our own midlife crisis. Mark and I were both about to turn 40 and we wanted to store our stem cells. To answer your question, no one out there was doing it or was willing to do it so we started the company ourselves.
Listen to the full episode of the On Books podcast to hear more!