Calif. stem cell agency opens new stem cell bank to spur disease research

A researcher working in a stem cell research lab.
A researcher working in a stem cell research lab.
Paul Sakuma/AP

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California's stem cell agency this week opened a large public stem cell bank that will allow scientists worldwide to more easily research nearly a dozen common diseases and work on developing new treatments for them. 

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine opened the bank at the Buck Institute in Novato with 300  lines of what are known as "induced pluripotent" stem cells.

These cells are highly-valued in disease research because scientists can easily reprogram them to morph into the type of cell they want to study – be it a heart, liver or brain cell. Then, they can easily grow, test, treat and study the cells in a petri dish.

That ability to be formed into any type of cell makes induced pluripotent lines similar to embryonic stem cells. But the pluripotent cells - grown from donated adult skin and blood cells - aren't controversial like embryonic cells, which typically require destruction of the donor embryo.

(The Institute for Regenerative Medicine notes that the embryos used in the process are donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, and "had either been rejected for implantation and were going to be destroyed, or the couple had decided to stop storing the embryos for future use.")

The pluripotent cell lines will be available for purchase by scientists interested in studying one of 11 common diseases and conditions, including: Alzheimer’s; heart, lung and liver diseases; blindness; epilepsy; cerebral palsy and autism.  

The cost of each vial will range from $750 for researchers affiliated with nonprofit research organizations to $1,500 for those who work  for-profit companies, says Institute for Regenerative Medicine spokesman Kevin McCormack.

State officials say that by 2018, the bank – funded with $32 million in taxpayer dollars  – will offer 3,000 stem cell lines, making it the largest public stem cell bank in the world.

Researchers at UCLA, UCSF, UCSD and Stanford University are now seeking and collecting tissue samples from volunteer donors. Once collected, the samples will be turned into individual cell lines and stored at the stem cell bank.

The Institute for Regenerative Medicine was created in 2004 after voters approved Proposition 71 to fund stem cell research in the state.