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WiCell marks stem cell anniversary with WISC Bank expansion

March 9, 2010

A year after President Barack Obama issued a landmark executive order to remove eight years of limitations on U.S. federal funding of stem cell research, the WiCell Research Institute has expanded the number of cell lines available through its WISC Bank (Wisconsin International Stem Cell) to 33.

WiCell, host of the former National Stem Cell Bank (NSCB) for five years under a contract from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has transitioned the distribution of all of the 20 human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines formerly available through the NSCB to its own stem cell bank. The bank also continues to carry its previously banked seven induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines and six genetically modified hES cell lines.

“With our WISC Bank sharing the same facility, staff and processes as those developed for the NSCB, it has been a smooth transition for WiCell to make the Bush-era approved lines readily available to researchers,” says Erik Forsberg, executive director of WiCell. “Over the past decade, WiCell has developed a unique track record in developing the expertise, protocols and quality assurance systems for the optimal growth, culture, testing, storage and distribution of these finicky cells.”

WiCell, founded in 1999 as a private nonprofit research institute affiliated with the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has fulfilled more than 1,500 orders for stem cell researchers in 32 countries and 42 states through the NSCB and its own bank. Among the WISC Bank’s new offerings are the three lines most used in published research, Wisconsin’s H1, H7 and H9 lines, which were derived in the UW–Madison lab of James Thomson during his breakthrough discovery of these “blank slate” human cells in 1998.

H1 is the first of the formerly approved pre-2001 Bush era lines to meet the new NIH Guidelines for Stem Cell Research. “The H1 line is one of the most extensively studied and characterized stem cell lines among researchers worldwide and, along with other early Thomson lines, is considered the ‘gold standard’ for stem cell research by many scientists,” says Forsberg. “We are extremely pleased H1 will continue to be eligible for government funding so that the hundreds of scientists who have built their research upon its use, can continue their work and discoveries without disruption.”

WiCell is in the process of obtaining the required documentation to complete the NIH application for submitting the other most widely ordered line, H9, as well as all the lines formerly available through the NSCB and part of the National Stem Cell Registry. If approved under the new guidelines, these pre-2001 lines would then be eligible for use once again in federally funded research.

Forsberg says he is eager for the WISC Bank to continue growing its offerings of pluripotent cell lines beyond those derived in Wisconsin. “These additions are a good beginning but our vision is to bank and distribute hundreds of pluripotent cell lines from a wide variety of providers, becoming a one-stop shop for stem cell researchers,” he says. “The WISC Bank is the result of more than a decade of hands-on learning about the growth and care of stem cells — we have the people and systems to handle high-volume distribution and to assist the increasing number of researchers advancing stem cell science around the world.”

For more information about WiCell, visit