Dubai: Do you have a quarter of a million dirhams lying around in your bank account? Are you yearning for eternal youth? Now you can invest in something that will truly change your life.
For around $62,000 (Dh227,726), you can freeze a backup of your adult cells for potential use in the future; that has the power to rebuild damaged tissue and organs. It may sound bizarre, but think of it as like backing up your computer — in this case you’re backing up your stem cells.
Established in 1999, French based-firm Cellectis is due to officially launch its newly-found service called Sceil right here in Dubai next month. Part of Sceil’s activity is already based in Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone, and will become fully operational after the launch on October 6.
Andre Choulika, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Cellectis, was born in Beirut in 1965. Having spent most of his life living in France, he achieved a PhD in molecular virology.
His firm is now one of the world’s top companies in the field of genome engineering, with revenue of $27 million in 2012. Since 2007, the biotechnology industry group has also been listed on the NYSE Euronext Alternext market in Paris.
“There is nothing similar to what Sceil is offering in the world — it is the first company worldwide to provide this service,” Choulika told Gulf News. “Usually it is ‘business to business’ related with corporations going through pharmaceutical companies; however in this case, it is business straight to the consumer.”
Sceil’s process involves storing induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) from a skin sample, giving people the opportunity to benefit from future regenerative medicine treatment — as soon as it becomes available.
The cells are stored at a ludicrously freezing temperature of -180C and remain the same age as when they were frozen, ready to be retrieved when needed. Keep in mind that younger cells are more compatible with the technology used by Sceil — so if you want to remain youthful and vibrant then start saving those dirhams.
“The sample will be turned into iPS cells and the new cells will remain frozen at your age today. So in 50 years, you can rebuild tissue; retina; cartilage; blood; and even heart cells — then you will benefit from your cells in the future,” said Choulika.
With clients already signing up for the service in the Gulf region, Sceil specifically chose Dubai for its high standard of medical facilities and its reputation for being a business pioneer in the region.
“Dubai was chosen because it is an active area in terms of business,” said Choulika. “There is a strong will in the Dubai authority in terms of technology and we appreciate that. The country is very business related — a lot of people travel to Dubai for business purposes. We targeted three different continents and each location we chose is stable. We store our clients’ ‘backup’ in three different continents so if something bad happens like an earthquake or a tsunami, there will always be a replica of each person’s cells. You cannot rewind time so if there is only one sample then it is lost forever.”
Is the procedure painful?
The service is painless and simple. It merely involves taking a small skin tissue sample from under the arm, three millimetres in diameter — under local anaesthetic by a dermatologist. The sample is then shipped off to the treatment centres around the world, to be transformed into iPS cells by Sceil’s biotechnology wizards.
“Potentially, it will attract people from neighbouring countries in the Gulf region,” said Choulika. “However, we made this service as simple as possible. People can go to a dermatologist in their home countries to take a skin sample, and then just ship it off to the Sceil laboratories to have it processed and stored.”
This may seem too good to be true — how can such a simple procedure repair damaged organs, rebuild tissue and fight diseases? Thorough research was carried out to create such a miracle-working service — based on Nobel Prize winner Professor Shinya Yamanaka’s work on iPS cells.
Cellectis has been working with Yamanaka’s CiRA (Centre for iPS Cell Research and Application) laboratory since 2010. Through developments, these cells may even one day be used as pancreatic cells for diabetes — and even cardiac cells to treat heart conditions.
Is this high one-time payment worth eternal youth?
Sceil was first revealed to the general public in July this year and recently launched in London on September 10. Other countries on the group’s radar include Switzerland, Singapore and the US.
Sceil’s service is a development under the Cellectis umbrella, and is part of the group’s focus on therapeutics, even though Sceil is not a therapeutics solution — it complements what the group has to offer in this area.
The question is — are people willing to pay that much and how can its success be guaranteed?
“Nobody can guarantee anything in this life. Up to now all of our work has been successful; however I will never use the word guarantee in the field of science,” said Choulika.
Zara Fawaz, a 41-year-old from Lebanon, who has lived in Dubai for six years and works in events management, said: “I think it is a great idea. When I heard of this service being launched in Dubai, I immediately did my research and was amazed at what I found out. We need a new scientific breakthrough like this, that will truly benefit society and I believe this Sceil service will do just that. It’s something I’m definitely putting on my bucket list.”
For now, Sceil may seem only affordable by a certain class of people. However, one day the service aims to become so cheap that it will eventually become mandatory for people with medical insurance.
“When iPS cells are rebooted, it comes back to stage zero of life — even before birth. The only thing that remains the same age is your DNA. You’re not going to suddenly turn young, but you will have a backup of your cells that will stay the same age forever,” said Choulika.
Future plans for the company includes a trial with University College London on potential genetic therapies for chronic leukaemia.
Sceil offers a window of opportunity allowing people to stay young no matter how old they get. According to Choulika, “you just stop time for a piece of yourself.”
Elisar Sasso is intern at Gulf News