A Local Startup Is Building the World’s Largest iPS Stem Cell Bank

orig3n logo

Local biotech startup Orig3n is out for blood—literally.

The company is trying to build the world’s largest bank of induced pluripotent (iPS) stem cells. To create this massive repository, called LifeCapsule, Orig3n is crowdsourcing blood samples at well-attended events like music festivals, health fairs, and last month’s Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

Founder Robin Smith told Forbes that this grassroots approach is an attempt to cut out the middlemen, i.e. slow-paced doctors and hospitals. “We think we can really democratize scientific research by getting contributors to add their samples to our library with their consent,” he said.

Scientists can program iPS cells to generate any kind of human tissue, making them a highly promising alternative to embryonic stem cell research—a contentious subject due to moral and religious objections. LifeCapsule, if and when it is completed, could be a valuable resource to the field of regenerative medicine.

The company’s democratic philosophy isn’t limited to major events. Orig3n, which launched last year out of Boston’s Innovation District, now offers an online service for donors to take their own teaspoon-sized blood samples using a mail-order kit. Patrons can also purchase a $99-per-year membership to store their own “immortalized” cells for personal use in the future.

Orig3n plans to use the completed biobank to create neurons, heart cells, and liver cells, and to study diseases like Parkinson’s and ALS. It hopes the repository will grow large enough to be a resource for researchers, hospitals, non-profits, and drug companies to further explore stem cell therapy.

“The response has been tremendous,” Smith said in his Forbes interview. “We get people lining up to our booth.”