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Hard-to-Get Stem Cells

More than one quarter of US researchers studying human embryonic stem cells say they’ve had trouble acquiring cell lines of interest.

By | December 14, 2011

image: Hard-to-Get Stem Cells Human embryonic stem cellsWikimedia Commons, Nissim Benvenisty

Human embryonic stem cellsWIKIMEDIA COMMONS, NISSIM BENVENISTY

In addition to the threat that federal funding will be banned for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research, some scientists are struggling with the logistics of actually obtaining the cell lines, according to a survey of more than 200 US hESC researchers published in the December issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology. Specifically, nearly one quarter of respondents said they’d faced excess delays after ordering lines, and more than one quarter said they never did receive the line they were after.

“The survey results provide empirical data to support previously anecdotal concerns that delays and impediments to acquiring certain human embryonic stem cell lines may be hindering stem cell science in the United States,” Aaron Levine of the Georgia Institute of Technology said in a press release.

More than three quarters of the survey respondents reported only using three or fewer hESC lines in their research, of the more than 1,000 existing lines, with more than half citing access issues as a primarily limitation. The respondents identified a handful of reasons why they had experienced problems in acquiring hESC lines, including difficulties with material transfer agreements, inability to obtain approval from institutional regulatory committees, cell line owners unwilling to share, and federal policy considerations.

“These results illustrate that many human embryonic stem cell scientists in the United States are not conducting comparative studies with a diverse set of human embryonic stem cell lines, which raises concern that at least some results are cell-line specific rather than broadly applicable,” said Levine. “Federal and state funding agencies may want to consider encouraging research using multiple diverse human embryonic stem cell lines to improve the reliability of research results.”

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