Does the placenta hold the key to human longevity?

Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Celularity founder Dr Robert Hariri discusses the potential of the placenta in regenerative medicine and human longevity.

The first part of our interview with Dr Hariri covered the discovery of pluripotent stem cells in the placenta and the journey to the formation of Celularity to commercialise that discovery. Today, the company is in multiple clinical trials of cell therapies for cancers and tumours, with therapies for degenerative disease also under development.

Longevity.Technology: As Hariri is also a founder of genomic health intelligence company Human Longevity Inc, we were keen to get his perspective on how he believes his work at Celularity can play a role in age-related disease and regenerative medicine.

Rather than focus on a numerical marker like lifespan, Hariri believes that extension of healthspan is a much more relevant aspect of human longevity.

“In my mind, the real objective is the preservation of human performance,” he says. “And the degenerative disease application of cellular medicine is not only important to me, but it is a very lucrative opportunity in health care.”

Stem cells “fundamental” to regenerative medicine

Hariri believes extending lifespan only makes sense if, in parallel, you can preserve three things: high-performance mobility, high-performance cognitive function and youthful aesthetics.

“I am completely convinced that stem cells are a fundamental part of our ability to respond to illness and disease, but most importantly, respond to the effects of aging,” he says. “Everything I’ve learned in the last 25 years has supported that. And I am absolutely convinced that the most obvious way to do that is to simply restore the population of stem cells in your body that are naturally driving the remodelling, renewal and renovation of your body, year after year after year.

“Your regenerative engine, which keeps you young and healthy, is driven by a reservoir of stem cells that you’ve been carrying along with you since birth. But that reservoir gets depleted, both quantitatively and qualitatively over time. We have clear biological evidence… people who stay really healthy in old age just happened to have healthier, higher integrity stem cell populations.”

Aging and the immune system

The potential for using stem cells to repair damage to specific areas, like the cartilage in a joint, for example, is well understood. But Hariri believes there is a broader opportunity for the technology to play a role in addressing the irreversible degenerative changes that happen to an aging individual.

“Your ability to evade causes of premature death can all be linked back to the integrity and the efficiency and the health of your immune system,” he says. “Over time, inflammation will destroy every organ and tissue in the body.”

At work in the Celularity lab

Hariri describes Celularity as “a company that has mastered the recovery of the leftovers of full-term healthy pregnancies, and then created a manufacturing system to isolate the cellular products, as well as the biological materials from that organ, and turn them into useful medicines.”

“And every one of them can play a role in either arresting or reversing those degenerative processes – either by affecting the immune system, or by supporting healthy functional repair or regeneration of the organs and tissues after a disease or an injury.”

On a 50-year mission

So where does Hariri see Celularity heading in the future?
“I’m really optimistic and hopeful that our platform, which is all placental, will be seen as the leading place to find cells for therapeutics, and that these cells are safe and effective,” he says. “And then, once we show that they’re safe and effective in indications, each indication builds upon itself. So we can chase the mainstream applications, like age-related frailty and things like that.”

“We’ve been doing this for 20 years, we have a incredibly rich intellectual property portfolio, we’ve got one of the longest, if not the longest, experience in manufacturing cellular products. And so when you combine all those things, we’re in a very powerful position to kind of lead the next evolution of cellular medicine, where everything is off-the-shelf.

Cellular medicine is, Hariri believes, a resource that deserves enormous attention, and that Celularity’s mission is to help bring it that attention, while demonstrating its safety and efficacy in ways that are relevant to the clinical community and to the regulatory community.

“When I started, I said this was a 50 year mission, and we’re in year 22 right now, so there’s a lot more to be done,” he says.

Images courtesy of Celularity