On a Mission to Obtain Optimal Health from the Inside Out
I have dedicated my life and career to health and the optimization of the body, and I have made it my life’s work to share this passion with others. The discovery of my natural abilities in math and science at an early age identified for me this opportunity. It is my privilege to harness and share my talent and apply it to the world’s greatest machine: the human!
I started out as a young leader actively participating as a swim and gymnastics coach at the YMCA when I was 15 years old. My appreciation for the human body and what it is capable of performing at its optimal level quickly traversed into leading group fitness classes and education. When I am not in the laboratory or meeting patients at our U.S. Stem Cell Clinic, I continue that passion for educating and leading others in fitness and health to this day. I have always enjoyed the science of health on every level, and continue to identify, develop and incorporate the latest research in my day-to-day activities for my participants to fully enjoy the human experience.
After graduating high school from the Academy of Holy Names in Tampa, Florida, with a near perfect transcript and the highest honors in both math and science, I decided to pursue Chemical Engineering at the University of South Florida. In addition to the required Engineering curriculum, I specialized in the honors program with a biology emphasis. Chemical Engineering is the study of processes, and I purposely chose this curriculum to apply my understanding of processes to the human body. The systems and the cycles in the human body are more complex and spectacular than any man-made machine on earth! Applying complex engineering to this system could provide me the perfect foundation for unlocking the secret to longevity. I graduated a year ahead of my class as an honors student with a Bachelors of Science degree, my senior thesis being a project in Biomedical Engineering.
I knew my journey was just beginning and decided to attend graduate school at The Ohio State University Chemical Engineering program. This program was listed as one of the top in the United States and it gave me the incredible opportunity to work with Dr. Jeffrey Chalmers in his cell culture and bioengineering lab. My research during my time at Dr. Chalmers’ lab focused on the use of nano-particle magnets to isolate and separate cells. While at the University, I completed all necessary PhD course work and defended generals while publishing several studies on magnetic cell sorting. I also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Maciej Zborowski of the Cleveland Clinic Biomedical Engineering program. With approximately one year until PhD completion, I had the good fortune to join a small startup company in Maryland called Osiris Therapeutics. During this time same time, my husband and I were also expecting the joyous arrival of our first child.
In 2001, I made the decision to finish my master’s thesis and join Osiris founded by Dr. Arnie Caplan (the ‘Father of the Mesenchymal Stem Cell’). I worked as a research engineer with Drs. Frank Barry and Mary Murphy and 2 other scientists on the Chondrogen team. We were studying the use of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from bone marrow for an application in the knee joint. Pursuing one of the first investigational new drug (IND) applications to the FDA for MSCs, we completed several pre-clinical studies in large animal models. My responsibilities included developing and implementing cell culture expansion protocols and testing of the cells in vivo. I remember the day I was working with another scientist to score the cartilage growth present in goat knee joints after stem cell injection and thinking, ‘wow, this is going to change medicine as we know it!’ These preclinical studies were used to successfully obtain one of the first IND approvals of stem cells in orthopedics from the FDA in 2002.
At this point in time, another amazing opportunity was presented to me — this time to move to Tulane University in New Orleans and work with Dr. Darwin Prockop (the grandfather of cellular therapy research on mesenchymal progenitors, such as MSCs). I was hired as the manager of the FDA Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility at Tulane’s Center of Gene Therapy. Our focus was using MSCs for applications in spinal cord injuries. It was my responsibility to design and implement all GMP compliant protocols for isolation, expansion and implementation of stem cells in patients with spinal cord injuries.
In 2004, shortly after the birth of my second child, another door opened — this time to move to Florida to join a growing start-up called Bioheart, Inc. now, U.S. Stem Cell, Inc. Our focus was the pursuit of solutions to one of the greatest challenges in health care: Heart Disease. I worked with Dr. Doris Taylor who has published some of the earliest studies on muscle stem cells in the heart in animal models. My challenge was to make this therapy ready for the clinic for use in our US and European clinical trials. I traveled the world supplementing my knowledge base by learning from other experts in heart science and medicine, including spending a month in Navarro, Spain, working with Dr. Felipe Prosper (head of the Cellular Therapy Unit at the Clinica Universidad de Navvarra). I developed and more closely perfected the manufacturing of muscle stem cells for use in humans suffering from congestive heart failure. We worked side by side with top cardiologists including Drs. Tim Henry, Warren Sherman, Thomas Povsnic, Chris O’Connor and more, at leading centers worldwide to successfully provide this treatment to hundreds of patients. We even published the first double blind placebo controlled trial demonstrating safety and preliminary efficacy of the injection of muscle stem cells into the heart.
It was during 2007 that our company became very interested in Adipose Derived Stem Cells (ADSCs), and I was given the opportunity to train with Dr. Stu Williams who is often credited as one of the first researchers in ADSCs. Our focus began with the implementation of clinical programs using adipose cells or, more specifically, stromal vascular fraction or SVF (population of cells from adipose tissue with fat cells removed). We started studies in the India, Mexico and the Czech Republic. It quickly became obvious that these diverse cells could be used in a variety of indications and, because this is a medical procedure fully implemented at point of care, the therapies did not suffer the same regulatory scrutiny normally involved in a culture expanded cell procedure.
I worked with physicians from a variety of sub specialties in order to establish protocols to utilize these cells to promote healing and reverse tissue damage. We developed and established an in-clinic protocol that could be completed in under 2-3 hours — unheard of at this point in time in medical practice. In collaboration with our team and outside medical professionals, we have completed and published more patient therapies using SVF than anyone in the world. These protocols have helped thousands of patients heal naturally without the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs, utilizing a cellularly holistic approach that is more in harmony with a patient’s individual cellular landscape. Also, together with a team of medical professionals, I developed a training program to help other physicians understand how to implement these therapies on a broader scale, in order to bring this novel therapeutic procedure to the world.
In 2014, I started an organization called the Academy of Regenerative Practices in order to bring together medical professionals and scientists seeking to help people heal naturally. The power to heal exists inside every single one of us and we can tap into this regenerative potential! It is my life’s work to lead the charge of this organization in order to help educate the public about this healing potential, including holding our ground that no agency or corporate entity owns the cells that exist inside our bodies. We have the right to pursue holistic healing modalities of our choice, with the doctors of our choice, in order to obtain natural healing.
I have had the honor and privilege at this point in time of being recognized by my peers on several occasions: I was chosen number 24 on Terrapin’s list of the Top 50 Global Stem Cell Influencers and number 1 on the Academy of Regenerative Practices list of Top 10 Stem Cell Innovators. Most recently, I was named in the Top 50 Functional and Integrative Medical Doctors/Scientists in the country by DrAxe.com — one of the most visited natural health websites in the world. I am humbled by the accolades but keep my eye on the prize, which is reinforced daily by my morning mantra: What can I do today to get stem cell treatments to as many people as possible?
A few years ago, I made the decision to return to school and complete my PhD. After finishing additional coursework at Florida International University, publishing studies on the use of stem cells in osteoarthritis, finalizing a book chapter on bioreactors and the largest safety study on the use of SVF, I am proud to say that I have finally completed my PhD in Stem Cell Biology from the Panama College of Cell Science.
As stem cell therapies continue to gain in popularity, my role as a patient advocate has become my life’s work. I am on a mission to obtain health from the inside out, and to help people in this world accomplish this for themselves. When you bring forward a technology that is so innovative and groundbreaking it is considered ‘disruptive,’ the terrain can be rocky. After all, these novel therapies are literally changing the course of medicine forever. Groundbreakers always attract naysayers, it’s just a universal truth. I understand and accept the challenges associated with being a groundbreaker, and I will never stop fighting for the right for individuals to use their own cells to heal.
I am a dedicated wife and mother of two amazing teenagers. I am a scientist who continues to focus her career on helping others achieve health. I have the honor of working with some of the best and brightest minds in the world. I am Kristin Comella and I’m on a mission to help others obtain health from the inside out.