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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wicell Research Institute Starting Stem Cell Bank

It will distribute lines beyond the 21 eligible under federal law

By Mark Johnson

From the Journal Sentinel http://tinyurl.com/6bep2k on Aug. 21, 2008

The WiCell Research Institute http://www.wicell.org/ in Madison is starting its own stem cell bank to distribute cell lines beyond the 21 eligible by law for federal funding.

The institute, a private, not-for-profit supporting organization with the
University of Wisconsin-Madison, operates the National Stem Cell Bank, which
distributes the federally supported lines of embryonic stem cells.

But the new bank will offer cells the national bank does not, including the
next generation — skin cells reprogrammed back to the embryonic state.

The first lines being made available were created through reprogramming, a
technique that does not involve the destruction of a human embryos. However
the institute may also distribute lines of human embryonic stem cells that
are not among those approved by the Bush administration.

“That’s certainly a possibility,” said Janet Kelly, a spokeswoman for
WiCell.

“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,” said Erik Forsberg, executive director of the WiCell
Research Institute.

“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.”

Academic researchers around the world will be able to order cells from the
new bank. They will have to sign an agreement stating that the cells will
only be used for nonprofit research and pay $900 per vial, plus shipping
costs.

“It’s clear that they don’t care what my opinion is,” said State
Rep. Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart), who has supported the Bush policy approving
federal funding only for a limited number of embryonic stem cell lines.

“There’s a great deal of concern among the public about destroying human
embryos for research, and those opinions should at the very least be
respected and not ignored.”

However, Ed Fallone, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Wisconsin
Stem Cell Now, hailed WiCell’s creation of the new stem cell bank as
“wise and necessary.”

“All public polling has shown that the majority of people favor stem cell
research, in particular if you are talking about using excess embryos left
over from in vitro fertilization. . . . I think in 10 years there will be
three or four major research centers in the country that are on the cutting
edge of stem cell research. The question is: Is one of those going to be in
Wisconsin?”

In June, a Time poll of 805 likely voters found that 73% favored using
discarded embryos to conduct stem cell research; 19% opposed such research.

Several polls in 2007 supported the research by smaller margins.

WiCell will begin by offering three lines of mature human cells that were
reprogrammed back to the embryonic state in the lab of UW stem cell pioneer
James Thomson.

The successful reprogramming of human cells was announced in November by
teams led by Thomson and by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the
Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease.

Although the reprogrammed cells are not yet safe for clinical use, the
techniques have raised the possibility that scientists may someday harness
the power of embryonic stem cells without the controversial destruction of
embryos.

Embryonic stem cells can become any of the more than 200 cell types in the
human body, qualities the new reprogrammed cells appear to share.

But the Thomson and Yamanaka reprogramming techniques involve using viruses
to insert genes into cells, a procedure that could lead to cancer.

The WiCell Research Institute has shipped cells to 600 researchers in 32
countries and 42 states.

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