The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Stem Cell Bank, opened in response to restrictions on the funding of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research in the USA, will close after just four years in existence when it runs out of public funding later this year. Changes in technology and the easing of federal restrictions have made the need for it obsolete, says the agency that first backed it.
The bank opened in 2008 with $8.6 million in state funding to store hESC lines during a time of limited federal support for hESC research under the presidency of George Bush. The cell lines were made available to scientists worldwide, which the bank started delivering in 2011.
'When this investment was made in 2007 it filled an important gap', said Angus McQuilken of the Life Sciences Center, Massachusetts, the body that awarded funds to the project.
However, when President Barack Obama's administration lifted the restrictions on the federal funding of hESC research, the UMass bank's function as a store for hESC lines that did not qualify for federal funding quickly became outdated. 'Stem cell lines are now more readily available from multiple sources', McQuilken said.
Some commentators have cited possible economic obstacles to stem cell banking as a reason for the closure. Executive director of WiCell Research Institute in Wisconsin, Erik Forsberg, explained that 'because the cost of banking and distributing this type of cell is quite high, it's hard to generate sufficient funds to make the operation sustainable'. However, researchers have expressed their support for the work the bank performed.
The UMass bank, which housed 12 available hESC lines, had worked in collaboration with the UK Stem Cell Bank to determine clinical uses for stem cell lines and to create standard types of cultures-mediums. Glyn Stacey, director of the UK Stem Cell Bank, said they were disappointed to lose 'a good valued collaborator in the field'.
'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. It's a shame we won't be able to share that work with them', he said.
Dr George Daley, director of the Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Boston Children's Hospital, told the Boston Globe: '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'.
The Life Sciences Center will continue to maintain an online registry to store information regarding the availability of different cell lines. The cell lines at UMass will be sent to the original institutions once the bank closes and its equipment will be donated.