A Massachusetts stem-cell bank will close when it runs out of public funding this year.
The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Stem Cell Bank, at the university’s Shrewsbury campus, opened in 2008 with US$8.6 million in public funds in response to federal funding limitations on human embryonic stem-cell lines, says Angus McQuilken, vice-president of communications at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a quasi-public agency based in Waltham that first funded the bank in 2007.
But the administration of US President Barack Obama lifted federal restrictions on funding embryonic stem-cell research in 2009 (see ‘NIH announces draft stem-cell guidelines‘), obviating the stem-cell bank’s main reason for existing, McQuilken says. The centre will continue to fund an online stem-cell registry that maintains information about the availability of different cell lines. The registry received US$1.7 million in public funds in 2007.
The bank lists 12 available human embryonic stem-cell lines, from researchers at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Boston Children’s Hospital. These lines will be returned to the labs that derived them, McQuilken says.
“I think the closing of the UMass bank, where we had anticipated maintaining a lot of our lines, means we will have to come up with an alternative,” George Daley, a stem-cell scientist at the hospital, told the Boston Globe.
The UMass bank began delivering its first cell lines only in 2011. That same year, it signed an agreement with the national UK Stem Cell Bank to develop stem-cell lines for clinical use and to develop culture-medium standards.
“It does mean we really can’t progress it in a more efficient way because we would have been spreading the load between the two banks,” says Glyn Stacey, the director of the UK Stem Cell Bank. “It’s a shame we won’t be able to share that work with them.”
The UK Stem Cell Bank already stores some of the same cell lines held at the UMass bank, and Stacey plans to talk with scientists in Boston to discuss supplying UMass cell lines in a sustained manner.
Other banks will probably pick up the slack, says Stacey, but the UMass bank was an important resource that emphasized collaboration between cell banks and had an eye towards clinical applications of stem cells. “For us it’s a shame we’ve lost a good valued collaborator in the field, and it will be the worse for that loss,” Stacey says.