Forever Labs is one of the first companies worldwide to offer stem cell storage for adults. Interestingly, there is a prolific market for the storage of newborn tissues, including umbilical cord blood, umbilical tissue, and placental blood and tissue.
However, storage for stem cells from adult sources, including fat (adipose) tissue and bone marrow, is extremely limited.
The company was founded, because the management team believes stem cell therapies will be ubiquitous in the future, and when your time of need comes, your ideal donor will be your younger self. Are you interested to store your stem cells before you (and they) get too old?
If so, enjoy this interview with Dr. Mark Katakowski, Ph.D., President and Chief Scientific Officer of Forever Labs. In it, we explore his background, the mission of Forever Labs, and the importance of storing young adult stem cells.
In this article:
- Forever Labs, Interview with Dr. Mark Katakowski
- How Do Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) Change with Age?
- Forever Labs Procedure
- Future of Forever Labs
Interview with the President and CEO of Forever Labs
Cade Hildreth: Who are the founding members of Forever Labs and what is your background?
Dr. Mark Katakowski: I am one of the founding members of Forever Labs. My role at the company is President and Chief Science Officer. My Co-founder Steven Clausnitzer is the CEO of Forever Labs. Prior to Forever Labs, I spent 17 years investigating bone mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapies for stroke and other neurological diseases. Before founding Forever Labs, I was a Staff Scientist in the Neurology Research Department of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.
One of my previous research accomplishments, was demonstrating that microRNA functions as a functional communication molecule between tumor cells, a previously unknown mechanism of intercellular gene regulation. I received a B.S. in Physics and a Ph.D. in Medical Physics from Oakland University.
Cade Hildreth: What inspired you to found Forever Labs and when did you begin operations?
Dr. Mark Katakowski: While developing therapies using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) for almost two decades, I experienced first hand the ability for stem cells to improve recovery after injury or disease. However, at the same time, I saw how stem cells lose this therapeutic ability to age. I realized we could solve this problem by cryopreserving young stem cells for later use.
In addition to storing young cells to better treat injury and disease, there is evidence that young stem cells might be used to extend healthy lifespan. In fact, when old mice are treated with young MSCs, they live healthier, longer. We are currently conducting preclinical studies of these therapies in mice at Forever Labs. As medical technology improves, we are increasingly revealing opportunities to maintain health, as opposed to restoring health that has been lost. Your young stem cells will likely be a very valuable asset in many of these health-maintenance therapies.
The company really started out of a midlife crisis. Steven and I wanted to store our stem cells for ourselves and our families, and when we couldn’t find a company to do it, we decided to start one ourselves. We began operations in November of 2015.
Cade Hildreth: Where are you headquartered and why did you choose that location?
Dr. Mark Katakowski: We are headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We are in close proximity to some of the best surgeons and physicians at places like Henry Ford Hospital, and the University of Michigan that are helping to pioneer the research we’re doing around stem cells.
How Do Mesenchymal Stem Cells Change with Age?
Cade Hildreth: How do mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) change as you age?
Dr. Mark Katakowski: Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are used in cell-based therapy for various diseases, due to their immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects. They have the ability to modulate to its environment and grow healthy tissue. However, the function of MSCs is known to decline with age, a process that is called senescence. Senescence often occurs due to damage that accrues in the cells over time.
This decline in the stem cell niche contributes to the risk for many age-related diseases such as stroke, heart disease, and osteoporosis. By restoring stem cell health, it is possible that we may reduce the risk and delay the onset of these age-related diseases. It’s almost like an oil change for your car. By renewing the oil, you reduce the risk of your engine wearing out.
It’s important to bank your cells while you’re young, because once frozen, those cells are no longer biologically aging. From a cost standpoint, preserving healthy stem cells now to later rejuvenate one’s MSC population later in life, or to treat age-related disease, may significantly offset medical expenses in the future.
According to studies from Health Services Research, almost 80% of lifetime healthcare expenditures occur after age 40, and after 40 most of our ailments are due to age-related disease. We bank young stem cells as a safeguard for the future. Personally, I believe that cryopreserving young stem cells will become a cornerstone of good medicine.
Cade Hildreth: How do you collect and store mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) for your clients?
Dr. Mark Katakowski: Stem cell collection is a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure performed with local anesthetic. The entire procedure takes about 15 minutes and most clients report a fleeting pressure-like sensation upon withdrawal. Many of our clients return to work that same day. I walked across town to lunch soon after my collection.
Once the stem cells are retrieved from the client, they are then cryogenically frozen and safely stored in an FDA-compliant clinical-grade biorepository. Client’s stem cells are stored agnostically until they’re needed most to combat age-related diseases.
Cade Hildreth: To what degree did cord blood banks who store cord blood and tissue from newborns inform your adult stem cell banking business model?
Dr. Mark Katakowski: We are very excited by the advancements of cord blood banks, as it has helped to spread awareness of the opportunity of storing our younger, healthier cells. Unfortunately for most adults, these technologies were not available when we were born, so Forever Labs provides older generations the same opportunity to utilize our own stem cells for future therapies.
We have been informed by their processes, and have worked to improve upon them. For example, we store multiple chambers of your cells, whereas most cord blood storage uses only one or two chambers.
Cade Hildreth: Do you have any direct competitors within the stem cell marketplace?
Dr. Mark Katakowski: We’re seeing quite a bit of companies working towards the various applications of stem cells. However, however Forever Labs is the only company banking adult MSCs for the express purpose of treating age-related disease and perhaps aging itself. It’s important to note that we store your cells, but they remain your own.
Cade Hildreth: How did you raise your initial $2 million in capital and from whom?
Dr. Mark Katakowski: We were fortunate enough to raise funding from a group strategic investors including Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, Silicon Badia Ventures, Babel Ventures, Aaron Hirschhorn, founder and CEO of DogVacay, and notable members of the medical community including Dr. Michael Dobryansky, Dr. Timothy Davis, Dr. Michael Schenden, among others.
Cade Hildreth: What are your 5-10 year goals for the company?
Dr. Mark Katakowski: Forever Labs is the culmination of decades of experience of stem cell scientists and board-certified clinicians hailing from Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, and Duke. We are not just a storage company, but are dedicated to advancing the development of stem cell therapies.
Our goal is to bring forth the first ever clinical trial bringing autologous (a patient’s own cells) mesenchymal stem cell transplantation to humans for the purpose of stem cell replacement.
Cade Hildreth: How can people get it touch with you to learn more about Forever Labs?
Dr. Mark Katakowski: You can visit https://foreverlabs.com and fill out a contact form or call us at (888) 344-8463. You can also watch the video below.
What would you do?