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WiCell Research Institute launches new stem cell bank

August 21, 2008 By Janet Kelly

The WiCell Research Institute, a private, not-for-profit supporting organization to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is launching its own stem cell bank to distribute cell lines beyond the 21 lines eligible for federal funding and distribution through the National Stem Cell Bank (NSCB).

“We are establishing the WiCell Bank to grow, test, store and distribute cell lines that the National Stem Cell Bank currently is unable to offer since it is limited to the 21 human embryonic stem cell lines approved for federal funding,” states Erik Forsberg, executive director of the WiCell Research Institute, which hosts the NSCB for the National Institutes of Health under a federal contract. “We will follow methods, protocols and quality control standards at the WiCell Bank similar to those we’ve developed and refined over the past three years for the National Stem Cell Bank.”

The WiCell Bank is beginning its operation by offering three iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cell lines, genetically reprogrammed from human skin cells to an embryonic state, derived in the laboratory of stem cell pioneer James Thomson, an anatomy professor at the UW–Madison and director of regenerative biology at the Morgridge Institute for Research, part of the new Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. Forsberg hopes to add additional cell lines, such as disease model cell lines, from other providers locally and worldwide to the WiCell Bank in the near future.

“We know from our experience in starting WiCell nine years ago, that banking stem cells is a difficult and time-consuming commitment,” he states. “We hope our unique experience in developing an effective and efficient operation with world-class testing, training and services attracts many other cell line providers to our bank.”

Forsberg states that the bank is starting with iPS cells because “they represent the next generation of stem cell research.” He explains that through WiCell, the cells will be readily available to academic researchers around the world who are eager to compare the Thomson lab’s iPS cells to similar cells they’ve developed in their own labs, as well as to human embryonic stem (hES) cells.

The three iPS cell lines have been distributed directly from the Thomson lab since last November, when his research team, led by Junying Yu, announced the breakthrough discovery of these cells. The cells provide an alternative to using embryos to create pluripotent stem cells, the “blank slate” cells that can develop into any of the more than 200 tissues of the body. In addition to easing many of the ethical and political issues of the stem cell debate, iPS cells open up the field of regenerative medicine by making it possible to reprogram a patient’s own cells for therapeutic purposes, thereby eliminating immune rejection issues.

Directions for ordering the iPS cells are available at the WiCell Web site. To obtain cells, researchers must complete an agreement ensuring the cells will be used only for non-profit research and pay a $900 per vial transfer/cost recovery fee plus shipping costs. In addition, WiCell will provide technical support for the long-term establishment of the iPS cells, which are even more challenging to grow than most human ES cell lines.

The WiCell Research Institute was founded in 1999 to advance the science of stem cells. It has shipped cells to 600 researchers in 32 countries and 42 states. As a supporting organization of UW–Madison, WiCell supports stem cell research at UW–Madison, operates the National Stem Cell Bank, conducts research, provides training for scientists and offers educational outreach programs for K-12 students and the community.