At the busy, crowded conference center where the Consumer Electronics Showcase was taking place in Las Vegas this week, dozens of people found time to roll up their sleeves and donate blood.
The teaspoon-sized blood samples could create major changes in medicine in the future, according to Orig3n, the company collecting them for stem cell research and consumer-facing genetics products.
James Lovgren, Orig3n’s chief business officer, said the company first started soliciting blood samples in 2014 for its cell repository database of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), LifeCapsule. The blood is collected and essentially reprogrammed into a stem cell-like state for research in regenerative medicine. Orig3n has solicited thousands of donations from people at various events in the Boston area where it is based, partnering with organizations like the Parkinson’s Foundation to better understand the cellular and molecular foundations of disease.
Those who donate also have an option to pay for access to their stem cells in the future. For $99 a month, users can keep an insurance policy on their genetic health, storing cells in a living database in case they are needed as new cures are developed. The immortalized cells could someday be retrieved, modified and then reimplanted into patients with diseases like diabetes.
In recent months, the company has expanded its line of products into health and wellness with AURA and FITCODE, kits that create insight into users’ genetic profiles. For $149, FITCODE analyzes 26 genes related to health and fitness and creates an assessment for users. Send in a cheek swab and the test will tell you know about things like the makeup of your muscles (if you are genetically inclined to be short or long distance runner, for example), the resilience of your joints, and your metabolism.
AURA, the beauty counterpart to FITCODE, retails for $99 and tells users the makeup of their skin, giving them insight on aspects like collagen production and light sensitivity so customers can adjust their skincare routine to better preserve skin health. Lovgren said many fitness companies and beauty professionals like plastic surgeons have already expressed interest in partnering with Orig3n.
“People are already asking us how they can integrate it into an app,” he said. “If you think about it, it goes right along with Fitbit or anything else—if you are trying to be healthier why not know your baseline health level?”
Lovgreen added that it has been surprisingly simple to convince people to donate blood, even before they added the commercial kits.
“People want to help because everyone knows someone who has been affected by one of these diseases,” he said. “It’s minimally invasive, you see how quickly we are in and out. And the blood is not being put in anyone, so people who cannot donate blood due to tattoos, travel, or other risks are able to donate to Orig3n.”
The LifeCapsule program is sustained through partnerships with drug companies for research. All donators sign an informed consent form giving Orig3n permission to take their blood, generate the stem cells, then use it in research, including with drug companies.
It is not FDA-approved as of now, but a representative from Orig3n said because the tests are not diagnostic they don’t require it. That same reasoning has gotten genetic testing companies like 23andMe in trouble in the past, but for now Orig3n is coasting along: the startup has been growing––it secured $12.5 million in funding in December to continue to expand.