While cryopreserving cell tissue, stem cells and other blood products is nothing novel, the emerging field of immune cell banking certainly is. Immune cells are all the cells that make up your immune system, including T-cells, B-cells, NK cells, neutrophils cells, monocytes, dendritic cells, etc. They are your body’s first line of defense against infection and disease. New immunotherapies, such as CAR T-cell, CAR NK and dendritic cell therapies, are currently being developed to leverage those cells and offer new, experimental treatment options for cancer patients.
Storing immune cells may be a fairly new concept, but the potential benefits of storing immune cells have made forward-thinking, health-conscious individuals take notice.
What is Immune Cell Banking and How Does it Work?
Immune cell banking involves obtaining, processing and cryopreserving someone’s healthy immune cells for potential future use in immunotherapies. Since immunotherapies utilize cells from the immune system to help fight infections and diseases, the idea is to have the best version of these cells on-hand in case they are ever needed.
The process is fairly simple and straight forward. Similar to giving blood, 200ml of blood is drawn from a healthy individual, processed and separated into different components and cryogenically frozen. From there, the samples are safely stored and kept viable until they are needed.
Immune cell banking is positioned as a long-term investment in your health, in line with taking out an insurance policy. Individuals proactively taking small steps today to make lasting impacts on their future health. While the philosophy is more or less “preparing for tomorrow,” it is important to note that advancements in immunotherapy are not just in the distant future but, instead, are happening now in real-time.
Many major pharmaceutical companies are investing heavily in cell-based therapies and it is already touted as the next major pillar of modern medicine. New groundbreaking immunotherapy treatments such as CAR T-cell therapy are already seeing promising and reproducible results.
What Exactly is CAR T-cell Therapy?
CAR T-cell therapy uses a patient’s autologous T-cells to help treat certain cancers. T-cells are taken from a patient’s blood sample, processed, and then modified to produce unique structures called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). These CARs are engineered to bind to certain proteins located on the surface of cancer cells. When CAR T-cells are reintroduced back into the patient, they attack and destroy those specific tumor cells, leaving the surrounding healthy cells and tissue unharmed.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has currently approved CAR T-cell therapy as a viable treatment for B cell lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia when traditional methods such as radiation, chemotherapy and surgery fail to deliver results. Therapies like CAR T-cell have the potential to change how doctors approach the treatment for many different types of cancer. Currently, clinical trials are being conducted to see CAR T-cell therapy’s effectiveness for cervical cancer, head and neck cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer. There are over 1,000 ongoing clinical trials and the results have been promising.
Is Immune Cells Banking Necessary for CAR T-cell Therapy
Being that CAR T-cell therapy is a relatively new innovation, those who are currently fighting cancer have no choice but use T-cells extracted from their already weakened immune system. As you can imagine, using compromised immune cells is not nearly as effective as using healthy ones. Data has shown close to 50 percent of patients fail to enroll in CAR T-cell therapy . Waiting to bank your immune cells until the moment you need them is highly discouraged. CAR T-cell therapy is currently approved as a treatment only when radiation and chemotherapy are no longer deemed adequate. Radiation and chemotherapy tend to destroy the immune system and using your immune cells at that point will not be ideal. CAR T-cell therapy requires a high volume of healthy cells and using preserved, pre-cancer immune cells will greatly improve a patient’s outcome.
Is Immune Cell Banking for Everyone?
Immune cell banking is available to anyone possessing healthy immune cells. The age range is generally between 18 and 65, but an individual is highly encouraged to store their cells when their body is at its healthiest. As the human body ages, immune cells begin to rapidly deteriorate, and their biological function becomes less effective. That means the younger you are when you store, the better. Those who have a family history of cancer or other genetic diseases may also want to consider banking as early as possible to proactively give themselves more treatment options in the future.
Where Can You Bank Your Immune Cells?
The practice of immune cell banking is fairly new so there are only a few places in the United States that offer this service. At the moment, there are two major US companies to consider when thinking about banking your immune cells long term: Cell Vault and HealthBanks. Cell Vault solely focuses on T-cell banking, while HealthBanks offers a wide array of immune cell and stem cell banking options.
Another major difference between the two companies is their technology and approach.
When it comes to cell processing, Cell Vault does not indicate on its website whether it is using any automated close system technology. Without automated technology, the traditional method uses a manual approach known as the Ficoll Method. Ficoll is a labor-intensive method that comes with its own set of drawbacks. The Ficoll Method has a relatively small processing volume and can take up to four hours to process a single sample. The other drawback is that manual systems are processed by hand and are far more suspectable to human error and contamination, leading to a suboptimal cell recovery rate of about 40 percent.
HealthBanks, on the other hand, has opted to go the fully automated route. Since the HealthBanks umbrella also includes ThermoGenesis, a giant in the automated clinical biobanking industry, they have access to proprietary automated technology like the Multi-component Automated Cell Separation System (MACSS™) and the BioArchive® Smart Cryostorage System. These systems allow for almost 20 times the throughput of the Ficoll method in a fraction of the time. Another major advantage of HealthBanks’ automation-forward approach is that they utilize a closed system which eliminates the risk of human error and contamination and prepares cells in a GMP compliant environment and ready for clinical use.
Another major difference between the two companies is the amount of blood drawn. Cell Vault collects about 50 ml blood vs HealthBanks requires about 150-200 ml blood. More blood will give more volume of immune cells which are required in CAR-T therapy and other immunotherapies.
HealthBanks is also available in more states than Cell Vault and has partners all across the country that can even come directly to your home.
Is Immune Cell Banking Expensive?
The cost of immune cell banking is on the lower end compared to other cryopreservation services. For example, HealthBanks is currently offering a monthly immune call storge plan starting at just $39.99 a month – comparable to most monthly gym memberships. Additionally, they’re currently running a special $100 off promotion for all new members to help offset the one-time $200 set-up fee.
You can also enter their Free Immune Cell Banking for Life Giveaway contest, where the grand prize is free immune cell storage for life and two second prize winners can win three years of free immune cell banking.
More About HealthBanks
HealthBanks Biotech (www.healthbanks.us) was originally founded in 2001 and now headquartered in Irvine, California. In 2008 it was the first stem cell bank to introduce cord tissue storage (referenced in several other Bioinformant articles on cord blood banks). HealthBanks is FDA registered and accredited by AABB, CAP, and CLIA. In 2020, HealthBanks became the first U.S. cell banking network to offer immune cell banking and storage for future use in immunotherapies. With the emerging success of CAR T-cell therapies and other cell therapies, such as CAR-NK and dendritic cells as a viable cancer treatment, they have expanded their ever-evolving suite of cryopreservation solutions to meet growing demand.
HealthBanks uses fully automated cell processing technology and BioArchive® smart robotic cryostorage system to preserve its customers’ precious stem cells and immune cells. These state-of-the-art bioprocessing technologies allows HealthBank to be the only U.S. cell bank that provides both stem cell and immune cell banking services at the time this article is published.
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 Eligibility Criteria for CAR-T Trials and Survival Rates in Chemorefractory DLBCL. Journal of Clinical Pathways (2018).