Q&A: Do we need stem cell bank?

Among stem cell policy changes instituted since U.S. President Barack Obama took office, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made a linkurl:controversial move;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57274/ to not renew funding of a key stem cell bank established at the linkurl:WiCell Institute;http://www.wicell.org/ in Wisconsin. Many scientists worry that without a national center to distribute human embryonic stem cell lines to researchers, the availability, cost and quality of cell line

By | July 27, 2010

Among stem cell policy changes instituted since U.S. President Barack Obama took office, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made a linkurl:controversial move;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57274/ to not renew funding of a key stem cell bank established at the linkurl:WiCell Institute;http://www.wicell.org/ in Wisconsin. Many scientists worry that without a national center to distribute human embryonic stem cell lines to researchers, the availability, cost and quality of cell lines will suffer as a result. But not all feel this way.
Evan Snyder, stem cell
biologist at Sanford Burnham Institute

Image provided by Evan Snyder
The Scientist spoke with linkurl:Evan Snyder,;http://www.sanfordburnham.org/labs/Snyder/ a stem cell biologist from the Burnham Institute for Regenerative Medicine in San Diego, who says he doesn't believe the community needs a nationally funded bank. Snyder, whose research focuses on the basic biology of stem cells and their potential applications, believes that in these tough financial times, researchers should do their academic duty and provide their stem cell lines to others at little or no cost, other than that of supplies and shipping. The Scientist: Does it worry you that the national stem cell bank at WiCell is no longer federally funded to distribute the NIH's approved human embryonic stem cell lines? Evan Snyder: I would only be upset about the bank being dissolved if somehow the pressure from the government [to share lines] was perceived as relinquished, because there was no longer a bank. My feeling is that when you've generated a line and you've published it, that it should be made freely available with no strings attached. If everyone does their ethical duty to the scientific community, then the bank is not necessary, other than as a convenience. TS: So then who should cover the cost of quality control, freezing and distributing the cells? ES: If a researcher is going to supply cells that he's published, and he wants to be the one controlling those, then he would do that. Some labs don't want to be in the business of supplying lots of cells, or mice, so they will deposit it into Jackson labs. People don't perceive Jackson lab as a profit-making place, they know they are paying simply for the service of maintaining an animal colony and sending it out. I think the initial price that WiCell was charging, $5000 a vial, did not fall into that category. It doesn't take $5000 to do the quality control we are talking about. TS: Some people would say that stem cell banks are held to different standards of quality control, which isn't -- or can't be -- matched by an academic lab. Do you think that's true? ES: If you are in a lab making stem cell lines, you are already a sophisticated cell culture lab and you are routinely checking for mycoplasma, karotypes, aberrations and differentiation. Most of the people that are requesting [lines from WiCell] are academics. To do academic research you just need lab quality control. Going into a clinical trial requires [good manufacturing practice], which is a different story and a whole different cost. What WiCell was supplying wasn't GMP-quality stuff. TS: When stem cell line distribution falls to individual researchers, you mentioned some problems, such as issues with material transfer agreements. What were the restrictions? ES: [One research hospital] said any product or discovery that came from the line belonged to [the hospital]. If we were to discover some novel drugs [using their lines, they] would want ownership of those drugs. That inhibits creativity and it inhibits research. TS: So have you run into that kind of restrictive mindset before? A lot? Is it something that is prevalent in the field? ES: Some companies will have that kind of restriction, and WiCell initially had it. When the national bank came about, they were forced to modify that. It's rare, however, to encounter it in an academic institution, and I think completely inappropriate and improper. TS: What do you think is standing in the way of stem cell research? ES: The biggest obstacle in every aspect is still the biology itself: the biology of the cells and of the diseases. Given that this is the major obstacle, it becomes frustrating when non-biological speed bumps are thrown in the way. Because the biology is so tough everything else should be made excessively easy, to not have to deal with human obstacles and human-derived obstacles. TS: What would those be? ES: Red tape, administration, concerns for profits, concern for excessive control, or just bureaucracy for bureaucracy's sake. An example of this would be obsession over the issue of informed consent for old stem cell lines. That material was obtained with proper and well considered ethical guidelines at the time. The delay in approving those was an example of unnecessary human intervention.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Q&A: Is stem cell research misguided?;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/56024/
[29th September 2009]*linkurl:NIH loosens stem cell consent rules;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55814/
[6th July 2009]*linkurl:Iran investing in stem cells;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55445/
[23rd February 2009]*linkurl:Stem cell banks galore;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55053/
[25th September 2008]

Comments

Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

July 27, 2010

For the same economic reasons that influence such closure decisions, university administrations will put strings on stem cell distributions by their scientists. They will see this (correctly) as the university's intellectual property, and since it is valuable, a potential source of revenue, a return on investment by the feds that should go to the university. Remember the Bayh-Dole act and all that. \n\nEvan is a sweetly naive about all that apparently. Academics sharing is a nice idea, but not realistic given the subject matter, times and law. If things go Evan's way though, those researchers working inside of huge multi-campus institutions like University of California will be favored. The rest of us will be on the outside looking in. \n\nPerhaps this suggestion of Evan's is not quite as naive as it appears?
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

July 28, 2010

Culturing pluripotent stem cells, including embryonic stem cells, is much more complicated and expensive than culturing most other cell types. In addition, pluripotent stem cells tend to be genetically unstable, particularly if less than optimal culture techniques are used. Hence, for many labs, the time and money needed to make high quality pluripotent stem cells available to the broad research community is beyond their means. The NIH is already funding the banking of one type of pluripotent stem cell, the so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell, and it makes economic and scientific sense for the NIH to also fund embryonic stem cell banking and distribution. The previous NIH-funded National Stem Cell Bank (NSCB) offered embryonic stem cells at $500 for two vials of cells through the non-profit organization WiCell Research Institute, but following the end of the NSCB, WiCell now charges $1000/vial to cover costs. Ironically, as the number of embryonic stem cell lines on the NIH Stem Cell Registry grows, the ability of researchers to obtain these cells has become more difficult due the lack of a NIH funded bank that provides high quality cells at a reasonable cost.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 25

July 28, 2010

What is wrong to provide cells at a reasonable cost through a cell bank that every scientist can access?
Avatar of: EVAN Y SNYDER

EVAN Y SNYDER

Posts: 3

July 28, 2010

Let me clarify my position on national stem cell banks, which did not entirely come across accurately in the quotes from me selected for use in the main piece:\n I believe that a National Stem Cell Bank, funded by the government and making high quality cells available to all researchers at reasonable cost (simply the cost of maintenance and transport) would -- contrary to the impression left by the piece -- actually be quite ideal and desirable, and its loss is extremely regrettable and ill-considered (presumably the victim of NIH budget deficiencies). However, if the government fails to meet this obligation, then scientists themselves should fill the gap and provide these important reagents (human embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cell lines) readily and also at simply the cost of maintenance and transport, with no strings attached. This, I believe, is particularly true if the lines were originally derived using federal or state funding and/or if they were published in peer-reviewed and/or high profile journals. Fortunately, some academic entities, like the University of Massachusetts, have stepped into the breach to provide this critical service. They should be commended. They are fulfilling what, I believe, is the obligation of all stem cell researchers to the scientific community.

Popular Now

  1. Antarctica Is Turning Green
  2. How to Tell a Person’s “Brain Age”
  3. Male Fish Borrows Egg to Clone Itself
  4. Life Science Funding Cuts Leaked
    The Nutshell Life Science Funding Cuts Leaked

    According to a document posted online less than a day before the release of the official 2018 budget proposal, the National Institutes of Health could face even deeper cuts than previously suggested by the Trump administration.

AAAS