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Carnegie Mellon University's NeuroBank extracts and stores neural stem cells for the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's.

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FSB co-sponsored Rice University's prestigious national competition for the first time this year. The winners took home a total of $327,000 in prize money, plus priceless bragging rights. Meet all 36 semifinalists below. Photographs by Evan Kafka for FSB.

(FSB Magazine) Houston -- Third place team: NeuroBank
What it does: Extracts and stores neural stem cells for the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's
Founders: Raymond Sekula, 35, and Sasha Bakhru, 27 School: Carnegie Mellon University
Launched: September 2007

Researchers are very close to figuring out how to use neural stem cells to cure brain disorders. Imagine being able to store your healthy neural stem cells today and use them to receive cutting-edge treatments for diseases you might develop later in life - such as Alzheimer's. NeuroBank plans to make that an option, initially for those newly diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson's, and stroke, but also for those in good health who want to preserve cells that are at their youngest and most robust. Neural stem cells, unlike embryonic stem cells, can generate cell types found in the central nervous system. But they deteriorate with age and neurological disease.

NeuroBank CEO and neuro-surgeon Raymond Sekula claims he found neural stem cells in spinal fluid. Before the discovery those cells were thought to reside mostly in the brain, from which doctors could harvest them only through a dangerous procedure that causes brain hemorrhage in 8% of patients. Neural stem cells now can be extracted through a much safer spinal tap. Sekula says he has 50 patients willing to undergo the procedure. During one business competition presentation he noted, "I've had at least a dozen healthy people in this room ask about storing their stem cells."

After extracting the cells, NeuroBank will prepare and keep them. The company, which has filed for four patents, will not develop treatments for any diseases.

Personal cellular storage already is available for human eggs, sperm, and umbilical-cord blood, so NeuroBank will be following an established business model - a factor that impressed the business plan judges. Sekula believes his company's entry into the market will be eased because the cellular storage business isn't FDA regulated. However, some judges worried that NeuroBank has not yet worked through regulatory compliance issues in areas such as patient privacy and the proper coding of the cells.

Even so, Sekula this year plans to secure $1 million in angel funding, launch a marketing campaign, and gain his first 100 customers.  To top of page

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