They froze my white blood cells!

When I was driving up the coast of California in 2007 for sightseeing, I stopped over at a hotel in Carmel. There I read an interview with Dina Eastwood in the Carmel Magazine. I was interested in this interview because she came to Iceland with her husband, Clint Eastwood, when he shot the film: “Flags of Our Fathers” there. I became curious when I read that she was going to work nonprofit for a company named BioBancUSATM that stores white blood cells. I therefore phoned the company and accepted an invitation by Lindsay Patel, Director of Laboratory Operations, to see what they were doing.

Roberta K. Carlson, Manager of Customer Service, and myself next to the BioArchive® nitrogen storage unit

BioBancUSA is a private company in Monterey in California and was originally founded by a team of leading physicians in the Immunology and Anti-Aging fields. Through a partnership with experienced entrepreneurs, it launched the nation’s first revolutionary immune cell preservation center dedicated to providing ‘bioinsurance’ against diseases. The company is the exclusive licensee of the original patent for the collection, processing and cryopreservation technology of white blood cells. Mr. Robert Hayner founded the company in 2006 and is the Chief Executive and President.

The immune system is the body’s natural defense mechanism to prevent and combat disease. The white blood cells (leukocytes) are part of this defense system and start in the bone marrow as stem cells, which are master cells and have the capability to form into other types of specialized cells. White blood cells are produced in huge quantities and are an intricate system of defense mechanisms designed to fight infection, provide protection from foreign particles that enter the blood stream, such as allergens, and fight against mutated cells such as cancer. The immune system is able to remember previous experiences and react accordingly; thus, once you have had chicken pox, your immune system will prevent you from getting it again.

Today, white blood cells are used in donor infusions, known as donor lymphocyte infusion. Donor lymphocyte infusion has mainly been used as a supplement for treatment to relapsed chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), acute leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), myelodysplasia (MDS), Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and multiple myeloma. Donor lymphocyte infusions are also used to treat certain viral infections in transplant patients.

Current research shows stored white cells could be used for cancer, autoimmune diseases and immune restoration. Numerous clinical trials are under way which use white blood cells as the basis of therapy. For example, a recent ground breaking report by the National Institutes of Health unveiled a new approach to attack metastatic melanoma cancer. Also, Baylor Medical Center completed clinical trails using immune cells to fight breast cancer. Other recent research using immune cell therapy includes prostate and gastric cancer and various other cancers.

The single most important reason to bank your white blood cells is to preserve your future options. Because research is ongoing and new discoveries come about regularly, no one knows what the life-saving potential of white blood cells could be in the future. Because your immune system “diminishes” over time, it is important to have your white blood cells stored as early as possible, while they are healthy and before any unexpected malignancy contaminates your cells. In this way you will have a source of healthy white blood cells that is an exact match should there ever be a need for treatment, which can also begin more rapidly. Cells from unrelated donors have many potential complications including rejection. If your own cells are collected after you have become ill, they may not be capable of producing as much, or any, benefit. For those individuals who have a history of disease with a condition that could potentially use white blood cells as part of the treatment therapy, banking their white blood cells is the most important decision they will ever make.

A few days after the visit I decided to have my white blood cells frozen. The main reason was that I would not have any reason to regret doing it. But if I did not do it now and it could have saved my life later, I would certainly regret for not having done it.

When I came back to BioBancUSA Deb Fleurat, a registered nurse collected my blood, which was similar to donating blood. She did a very good job so I hardly noticed when she took some of my blood. My blood and corresponding documents were individually barcode labeled for precision tracking throughout the entire process. Immediately after the collection, the blood went to the laboratory where the majority of red blood cells and plasma was removed to begin isolation of my white blood cells. A cryoprotectant, DMSO/Dextran 40, was added to shield the white blood cells from freezing damage. Research has shown that this methodology is the most successful in terms of cell recovery and ultimately for transplant results. The cells were then carefully prepared and frozen in a molded freezing bag for uniform freezing of the white blood cells. The bag, in its protective aluminum cassette, was frozen at a computer-controlled rate and was stored in a BioArchive® nitrogen storage unit. This process ensures the safety of the white blood cells because progressively lowering the temperature keeps the cells from going into shock before reaching the storage temperature of -196°C. This advanced system uses a robotic arm device, where the white blood cells will not be exposed to temperature variations that could significantly compromise their viability. This system uses a very special barcode system to catalog and identify my white blood cells in the most accurate way. A sample of my blood was sent to an FDA-licensed laboratory for infectious disease testing.

All the cryostorage white blood cells units are monitored by 24/7 surveillance systems that will alert the personnel of any problems. Entry to the constantly monitored laboratory and storage area is gained only through a controlled access point to maintain the safety of the stored cells. Operating procedures are in effect to maintain at all times the safety and quality of the white blood cells.

After the completion of the cryopreservation and storage process, I received a Certificate of Storage. This confirmed that my cells were safely processed and stored with BioBancUSA. At that time I was the third European who had his white blood cells frozen at BioBancUSA. The two others were the Chair of BioBancUSA´s Scientific Advisory Board, the world-renowned Dominique Charron, M.D., Ph.D, who is Professor of Medicine – Immunology at the University of Paris in France and President of the European Foundation of Immunogenetics. He had said that: “White blood cell (WBC) transfusion may well impact health in the 21st century to the same extent as Red Blood Cell (RBC) transfusion did over the 20th century.” The other one was Luc Montagnier, the scientist who discovered the AIDS virus.

I hope that I will never have to use the stored white blood cells, but studies from 1998 indicate stem cells have proven viable after 15 years of cryopreservation using this technology. However a number of experts believe these cells can be preserved indefinitely, since the molecular state of the cells have been suspended due to freezing.

BioBancUSA went out of business in 2010 and my white blood cells are now stored at California Cryobank / Family Cord Blood Services, which I have also visited.

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