The stem cell banking crisis

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has allowed a contract for the dissemination of embryonic stem cell lines approved for US government funding to lapse, shuttering a key stem cell bank, and doubling the price researchers pay for samples of some human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines. Human embryonic stem cellsImage: Wikimedia commons, Nissim BenvenistyResearchers hoped that stem cell research would be moving forward by leaps and bounds with the number of hESC lines approved for federal fu

By | April 7, 2010

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has allowed a contract for the dissemination of embryonic stem cell lines approved for US government funding to lapse, shuttering a key stem cell bank, and doubling the price researchers pay for samples of some human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines.
Human embryonic stem cells
Image: Wikimedia commons,
Nissim Benvenisty
Researchers hoped that stem cell research would be moving forward by leaps and bounds with the number of hESC lines approved for federal funding more than doubling since the limitations of the Bush administration were lifted in 2009. But a major stumbling block remains -- getting those newly approved lines to the researchers who want to use them. In 2005, the linkurl:National Stem Cell Bank;http://www.wicell.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=category§ionid=7&id=303&Itemid=252 (NSCB) was established at the linkurl:WiCell Institute;http://www.wicell.org/ in Wisconsin to distribute the 21 Bush administration-sanctioned lines to labs around the country. But last month, the NIH let the NSCB contract expire, forcing the bank to shut down. Though the lines are now available through the linkurl:Wisconsin International Stem Cell (WISC) Bank,;http://www.wicell.org/index.php?option=com_oscommerce&Itemid=192 the lack of government subsidization has caused the prices to double from $500 per vial of frozen cells to $1000. "We now suddenly have to be a break even," said Erik Forsberg, executive director of WiCell. "We have a pretty good handle on costs and revenue, [but] we'll just have to see how it goes," he said, commenting that if the bank's sales go down, it may be forced to raise its prices even more. Furthermore, only one of those 21 lines approved under the Bush administration and distributed by the WISC Bank are eligible for federal funding under the new NIH guidelines. All of the other 50 newly approved lines are scattered among a handful of institutions, none of which have a distribution center set up to handle the administrative burdens of taking, filling, shipping, and tracking orders. Harvard Stem Cell Institute researcher linkurl:George Daley,;http://daley.med.harvard.edu/ whose lab generated 11 of the hESC lines approved in the new NIH registry, is doing what he can to distribute those lines from his Children's Hospital Boston lab "in the short term," he said in an email to The Scientist, but "we're not in the business of 'selling' the lines." Daley said that they are currently shipping the lines to at least 3 dozen groups, but at $500 per order and no supporting funding, "we are [taking] an overall loss," he said. "The field definitely needs some bank or banks to step up." The distribution of federally funded hESC lines is "probably best achieved" through large organizations such as the Coriell Institute for Medical Research in New Jersey, the University of Massachusetts Stem Cell bank, or the linkurl:American Type Culture Collection;http://www.atcc.org/ (ATCC), Daley added. This past January, the NIH linkurl:expanded its contract;http://www.pdonlineresearch.org/news/2010-01/26/nih-contract-calls-coriell-include-ips-cells-genetic-biobank with the linkurl:Coriell Institute;http://www.coriell.org/ to include the banking of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines, providing the bank with a five-year, $27 million contract for a human genetic biobank and new stem cell laboratory. No plans have been made, however, regarding embryonic stem cell line banking. The ATCC also does "not anticipate acquiring [the newly-approved hESC lines] at this time," said ATCC spokesperson Nancy Wysocki, noting that "this does not exclude the possibility that we might distribute them for others at a future date." The NIH may take matters into its own hands, establishing its own cell bank to distribute the new lines to researchers. "NIH is seriously considering various options, including banking, to ensure that NIH grantees have access to human embryonic stem cell lines that derivers are willing to share with the research community," said an agency spokesperson. "Depositing the cell lines in publically supported banks only makes sense," agreed James Thomson, stem cell researcher and one of the founders of the NSCB. But one bank may not be enough, he added. "I think it is important that NIH support multiple such banks for both human ES and iPS cell lines [so] there could be regional support and competition, and the over-all quality would continue to improve." Meanwhile, researchers continue calling for the addition of the other 20 Bush-approved lines to the NIH registry -- a task that the WISC Bank is working on, Forsberg said.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Stem cell banks galore;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55053/
[25th September 2008]*linkurl:UK stem cell bank to begin distribution;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/24812/
[19th September 2006]*linkurl:UK stem cell bank ready to go;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/21599/
[18th September 2003]

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