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World’s First Stem Cell Bank Opens in UK

By Cheryl Simon Silver

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Stem Cells

The world’s first stem cell bank, UK Stem Cell Bank in the United Kingdom, is accepting deposits.

Less than two years after the government-funded National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) announced the formation of the stem cell bank, the facility last month accepted two new cell “lines” for storage. The first two human embryonic stem cell lines deposited were developed separately at King’s College London and the Centre for Life in Newcastle, UK.

The facility is hosted by NIBSC and will store, characterize, and supply adult, fetal, and embryonic stem cell lines. The Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) are providing the funds.

“Stem cell therapy will remain a dream unless we can understand and control the processes that switch these cells into specialized types such as brain or pancreas cells,” says Julia Goodfellow, chief executive of the BBSRC. “The Bank will help us to achieve this by providing isolated and well-characterized cells for research.

The bank will ensure that ethical consent has been obtained from all owners of the embryos from which donor cell lines are developed. A high-level steering committee must approve all applications to deposit stem cell lines in the bank.

The cells will be available to researchers worldwide, for both research and clinical applications. The bank itself does not conduct research on fundamental stem cell biology or potential commercial applications. The facility is able to store up to 300 cell lines, but the capacity can be expanded.

Loan applicants eager to withdraw stem cells for research may need to be patient a while longer while the funders decide whether users must pay to access the cell lines, and if so, how much. Operations manager Charles Hunt says the purpose of the bank is to further the work of the research community so the idea would be to not have costs hinder access to the lines by researchers.

Many scientists believe human embryonic stem cells can be coaxed into becoming any kind of cell in the human body and therefore have enormous potential in treating diseases. Researchers are exploring how such cells work and might be used in treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

The facility is in South Mimms, north of London.

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