Stem cell banks galore

In the last several years, stem cell banks and registries have begun springing up across the country and internationally. But are all these facilities helping research, or just duplicating efforts?

By | September 25, 2008

In the last several years, stem cell banks and registries have begun springing up across the country and internationally. But are all these facilities helping research, or just duplicating efforts? The latest addition to the list of such facilities is the stem cell registry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, launched earlier this month. That school also has a human embryonic stem cell (HESC) core facility to store and distribute the cell lines. There are plenty of others: the National Institutes of Health runs a stem cell registry, and WiCell Research Institute, part of the University of Wisconsin, operates the National Stem Cell Bank; the Coriell Institute in New Jersey also has a stem cell bank, as does Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Rutgers University, for example. Several commercial companies also distribute stem cell lines. And then there are international efforts, such as the International Stem Cell bank and the European Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry. Of course, registries and banks differ from each other in that registries keep track of cell lines (like a card catalogue) and banks store the actual cell lines (the library shelves). Do we need so many? "I actually think at the present time to have multiple banks is a really good idea," linkurl:Story Landis,; head of the NIH stem cell task force, told The Scientist. That's especially true because WiCell's National Stem Cell Bank can only house the 21 HESC lines approved for federal funding; for now, other banks must help keep the other HESC lines that have been created. Also, some banks specialize in other types of stem cells. The Coriell Institute keeps umbilical cord blood and placenta stem cell samples, and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute is leading efforts to bank induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, in addition to carrying nearly 30 embryonic stem cell lines. Such specialization might be a good thing, linkurl:Erik Forsberg,;§ionid=11 executive director of WiCell, told The Scientist. "For example, the new iPS cells-- those are individualized cell lines that come from individuals. So it depends how the technology [develops], but there could literally be millions of them potentially. You almost have to have multiple locations." But the proliferation of cell lines and shared banking efforts may create some confusion as to how researchers should credit the lines they use. Coriell and Harvard Stem Cell Institute, for example, have recently agreed to jointly distribute iPS cell lines. Harvard's linkurl:George Daley; last month linkurl:created; 10 disease-specific stem cell lines using somatic cells from the Coriell Institute. Now, researchers who use Daley's lines can either get them from Harvard Stem Cell Institute and credit Daley's original paper where the cell lines were published (which in turn credits the Coriell Institute), or get them from Coriell and credit Coriell directly. In the latter case researchers must use special language written by the institute that in turn credits Daley. It's actually being worked out quite well, linkurl:Margaret Keller,; director of the New Jersey Stem Cell Resource at the Coriell Institute, told The Scientist. "It's kind of confusing but that's part of normal science. People share reagents all the time and we're pretty good at referencing where things came from." Chances are, said Landis, that the number of banks will level off in the near future, even as the number of cell lines grows. "My bet is that over the next five years there will probably be a shake-out of a number of organizations. People will set [stem cell banks] up but not all of them will survive; the criterion for survival will be quality control and excellence of the banking effort." The sheer effort it takes to preserve stem cell lines may indeed be the limiting factor to how many stem cell banks remain standing in the long term. "It takes a certain skill, and certain environment," to maintain stem cell lines, linkurl:Brock Reeve,; codirector of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, told The Scientist. "Obviously people have to have certain skills and knowledge to handle them." That's especially true for embryonic stem cells. "These cells require more attention and preparation to work with," Forsberg said. Creating standards for characterizing embryonic stem cells is a big challenge, and the US Food and Drug Administration held a linkurl:meeting; earlier this year in attempts to devise such standards. But stem cell banks have had to confront these issues already at a local level. "One of the things that a cell bank can do is get scale of expertise and have people used to handling different types of cells cultures, media, etc," Reeve added. Such cell banks "have an experience base that no one academic lab could have on their own. There's an advantage to scale of expertise."


Avatar of: Jeanne Loring

Jeanne Loring

Posts: 4

September 25, 2008

I'm involved in the U. Mass registry effort- and I chose to support this project because it's a grassroots organization founded by and maintained by the scientists who want the information and are willing to help keep it current. As the founder of one of the earliest registries (the Stem Cell Community), I know how much work it is to obtain initial and updated information from the diverse groups who have made pluripotent cell lines. \nThe timing is important- we want to use the registry as an anchor to link new data to listed cell lines - gene expression profiles, microRNA profiles, SNP genotype, DNA methylation, chromatin structure, proteomics, clinical outcomes. The only way to do this is to have a group dedicated to sharing knowledge. I see the U Mass group as the right ones for this task.

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