We've all heard about the promise of stem cells: Chinese doctors are experimenting with treatments for neurological diseases, and Spanish surgeons made headlines last fall after they grew a new section of windpipe for a woman using her own cells. While much of the research and most of the therapies are still figments of scientists' imaginations, a New York-based company called StemSave is offering to bank your own cells in anticipation of the day when potential is turned into reality.
StemSave harvests stem cells from teeth already pulled by your dentist, which are delivered to its lab in a patented transportation kit that keeps cells alive by chilling them.
All stem cells aren't created equal, but StemSave CEO Art Greco claims that cells from teeth are particularly versatile — and the younger the tooth, the better. The service costs $590 to join, and $100 per year after that.
But banking stem cells — from teeth or elsewhere — is still essentially a game of poker. "We can conceive of a time when they might help," says Dr. Allan Kirk, a surgeon at Emory University Hospital and a board member of the American Society of Transplantation. "But it certainly couldn't be considered cost effective or energy efficient at this point. As is typically the case, our imagination is long ahead of our technology."
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A version of this article appeared in the March 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.