California stem cell bank will save time, speed research

Early this year our Governing Board approved funding for nine awards to create a stem cell bank to be located at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging just north of San Francisco (here’s our press release).

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Erin Allday recently wrote about the bank, which will eventually contain 9,000 stem cell lines generated from tissue donated by 3,000 people with with known diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, autism, hepatitis, forms of blindness and heart disease, among others. It will also include embryonic stem cells and stem cells generated from people without known diseases. The stem cells will then be a resource scientists can use to model diseases in the lab.

Allday quoted CIRM science officer Uta Greishammer:

“The intent for these cells is research. They’re for understanding better how diseases work. They’re for discovering new targets for drug developers, and the cells might be used to screen for new drugs. If these cells lead to a new drug and a new treatment that would of course be fantastic.”

Worldwide, scientists are making use of technology developed in 2007 to reprogram adult cells contained in skin or blood into an embryonic-like form. When the skin or blood comes from people with known diseases, the resulting cells can then be used to better understand those diseases in the lab (we’ve written about these disease-in-a-dish studies).

The current problem is that scientists are generating their lines in different ways making it hard for two labs to compare their results, not to mention the process of generating the lines takes time that could be better spent doing research. We wrote about this problem in the 2011 annual report:

CIRM’s solution to this laboratory logjam takes the form of a three-part initiative. The first part will bank cells created by CIRM grantees and make them easily accessible to California scientists and their collaborating partners worldwide. The other two portions focus on creating new disease-specific cell lines that are proving valuable in understanding diseases, and identifying new therapies. Creating this centralized resource to handle the distribution, the paperwork and the creation of new lines will allow scientists to keep their focus on what is most important—using those cells to develop new therapies.

CIRM’s initiative includes an award to Cellular Dynamics International (CDI), which will be responsible for taking all the tissue from donors and generating the cell lines. This means that scientists will be studying cells created the same way and can compare their results across different labs. Those cells will be stored and distributed through an award to Coriell Institute for Medical Research, which is developing the new facility at the Buck.

There’s more information on our website about each of the awards that make up this initiative. We’ll be writing more about how the bank is progressing over the coming months.

A.A.

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