Placentas are usually discarded, yet they are packed full of stem cells. Now Bob Hariri and XPrize founder Peter Diamandis aim to harness their potential.
If you were listing organs on which your life depends, you would probably overlook the placenta. Yet it plays a vital role in supporting a developing fetus, providing it with nutrients and oxygen, and removing waste products. Made from both fetal and maternal tissue, it is also a rich source of stem cells, which can turn into any cell needed by the body. Most placentas are discarded, but according to XPrize founder and space-flight entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, we could be missing a trick. He and Bob Hariri have set up a new company, Celularity, to harness placental cells. Diamandis has two young sons and says he hopes to live to meet his great-great-grandchildren. “My boys have the potential to live indefinitely. I think that’s something we’ll figure out in the next 10 to 20 years,” he says. New Scientist met Diamandis and Hariri at the Unite to Cure conference on regenerative medicine at the Vatican last month.
What’s special about cells from the placenta?
Bob Hariri: First and foremost, they are incredibly young. I often argue that at the instant of birth, a healthy newborn has gone through nature’s quality control process. If the DNA wasn’t perfect, you wouldn’t have a viable offspring. So if you can recover those cells it’s like immediately freezing fruit off the tree. Clarence Birdseye said if I want fresh food, I have to freeze it at the site of harvesting. This is like the Birdseye of biology. And the beauty is we can store these cells with cryopreservation for decades. I actually believe that they are infinitely useful. …