Regeneration nation

Houston company uses stem cell technology to treat patients suffering from degenerative diseases

Celltex's stem cell technology has received positive results from its multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and rheumatoid arthritis patients. Courtesy of Celltex

The medical community has former governor Rick Perry to thank for a major stride in regenerative medicine.

"He had just gotten elected for the last time and he wanted to leave a legacy. He was tired of people going to Japan or Germany when they needed stem cells," recalls David Eller, chairman, co-founder and CEO of Celltex.

That was 2011, the year that the former president of Dupont Pharmeceuticals-Europe and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stanley Jones incorporated as Celltex. Perry got the law passed to make it legal to harvest his stem cells, and Jones implanted them while the governor was under the knife for a spinal fusion surgery.

Perry resigned from the Celltex board in 2017, but the truth is, the company no longer needed his clout. Just a year after its debut, the company had in excess of 200 clients, each paying a banking enrollment fee of $6,500. Now, there are close to 1,300.

From research to recovery
Eller is originally from Houston, and he says his hometown is the ideal home base for the company, with its access to the world's largest medical center. The Galleria-area office and lab employ 35 people, with about 50 workers worldwide.

Close to the same time that his friend Perry received his stem cells, Eller also had the treatment in hopes of resolving pain from a college football injury.

"I would go to work and put four to six Advil in my pocket," the CEO recalls.

Within months, all of them remained in his pocket.

But others have had even more dramatic results. Celltex checks in with patients three, six and nine months after their treatments to find out how they're doing. Eighty-three percent of multiple sclerosis patients have reported improvement of symptoms specific to their disease, as have 73 percent of Parkinson's sufferers. But the staggering fact is that 100 percent of 58 respondents with rheumatoid arthritis say they have benefited.

Implementation and the FDA
Celltex's chief scientific officer, Dr. Jane Young, co-authored a study of two severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis patients whose conditions didn't respond to standard treatments. After trying stem cells, both reported marked improvement in autonomic nervous system and immune function.

Stem cells are gathered through a patient's fat, which can be extracted at any of the 80 facilities around the country that partner with Celltex. The fat is processed at the Houston lab, where processing takes 30 to 35 days.

"We have 15 billion cells in process each day," says Erik Eller, the company's vice president of operations, clarifying that some clients' cells grow faster than others'.

It takes 14 days to come out of cryostasis and leave the lab. From there, the stem cells travel to Hospital Galenia in Cancun, Mexico for implantation, since the FDA categorizes stem cells as a drug if they have expanded as they do at Celltex. That means that a patient cannot use his own stem cells in the United States without a clinical trial. To circumnavigate the red tape, Celltex has simply partnered with the luxurious Mexican hospital.

This is currently the company's biggest challenge, says David Eller, but one he expects to overcome.

"We have very good relations with the US FDA," he says. "They are very interested in what we know. Our approach is really is very progressive and we've grown every year."

Ultimately, Eller hopes to be able to implant stem cells in the United States. But the company's foreign growth is a good start. Celltex is now operating in the Bahamas and is hoping to add Australian extraction facilities sometime this year. They are also in negotiations with a team from Saudi Arabia interested in expanding Celltex to the Middle East.

Other goals for Celltex include improvements both in the realms of sales and revenue and streamlining and improving the safety and efficacy of treatment. Research collaborations with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas A&M will help with the company's medical credibility. This all may help to convince the FDA to allow the Celltex to get a biologics license, the final proof that it is not a drug company. But no matter how it's categorized, Celltex is growing exponentially as its cells.

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Building Houston

 
 

This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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