Nature ran an interesting story today on access to the new stem cell lines created last month through cloning. The technique involves removing the DNA from an egg, inserting the DNA from an adult cell (like skin or blood), then triggering the egg to start dividing. The end result is a 4-5 day old embryo that scientists can use to generate embryonic stem cells.
Yesterday CIRM President Alan Trounson wrote about the value of these cell lines.
However, as Nature writes, access to these cells is currently limited. At a federal level, the NIH can’t fund work involving stem cells that come from embryos created for research purposes.
In California, the issue is that women were paid to donate the eggs used in the research. In 2006, CIRM took a conservative approach and chose to prohibit funding for research involving stem cell lines in which egg donors were paid.
The end result, says Mitalipov, is that a dozen or so universities are struggling to negotiate ‘material transfer agreements’ to receive the new cell lines without running afoul of CIRM or the NIH. Interest in the new cell lines is high, especially since the identification of errors in images and figures in Mitalipov’s research paper shortly after its publication in Cell. But regulations would require laboratories to use only dedicated, privately funded equipment to study the new cells, a condition that only a few researchers — such as George Daley, a stem-cell expert at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts — will be able to meet.
The new lines have generated considerable interest from CIRM grantees who want to use the new lines in their research. In response, Geoff Lomax, who heads CIRM’s standards working group, says the group will likely consider allowing funding for stem cell lines that involved paid donors (most likely later this summer). If the standards working group does recommend changes to CIRM’s policies, those changes require approval by governing board before going into effect.