Health & Medicine

World’s largest public stem cell bank inaugurated in California

Stem cells are being kept in bio-repositories under in secure facilities in California and New Jersey.
Stem cells are being kept in bio-repositories under in secure facilities in California and New Jersey. Coriell Institute for Medical Research

California researchers opened the world’s largest publicly available stem cell bank Tuesday, which will aid in the search for cures for genetic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and autism.

Universities from around the state will contribute adult skin samples to the bank, while the Buck Institute for Research in Novato will store the material.

The Stem Cell Bank is funded through a $32 million grant awarded in 2013 by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which itself was established in 2004 through voter approval of Proposition 71. That measure provided an initial $3 billion in state bonds to the institute.

The bank boasts 300 stem cell lines, with its stock predicted to reach 750 lines by February. The ultimate goal is to hit 9,000 lines, said institute spokesman Kevin McCormack.

“Japan, Korea, Europe – anyone can apply to this bank and we can ship these out to them,” McCormack said. “We want to make the bank a global leader in these cells.”

The Roman Catholic Church and anti-abortion groups vehemently opposed Proposition 71 and still criticize stem cell research using fetal tissue. The bank’s stem cells will come from adult skin and blood samples.

“This is tissue that comes from adults, grown people. They can give consent, and the cells you get can be turned into many different kinds of cells,” McCormack said.

The bank’s cells have the added perk of being able to be engineered into almost any kind of cell, including brain cells.

“You can imagine it’s pretty difficult to get neurons from individuals, but now we don’t have to,” said Courtney Kronenthal, spokeswoman for the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, which will store and deliver stem cells to buyers. “We can get those from skin and blood cells (of someone with Alzheimer’s disease) and develop them into neurons.”

Those pluripotent stem cells, as they are called, help researchers outline the contrasts in stem cells between, for example, an individual in the autism spectrum and someone not in the spectrum.

“You don’t have to biopsy a brain and you can test various drugs in seconds,” McCormack said.

Acquiring those cells will come with a price tag of between $750 to $1,500, which includes extensive demographic and clinical data provided with each vial purchased. The type of research being pursued will also determine the price, with a university research department paying less than a for-profit project, according to McCormack.

“We accelerate research,” Kronenthal said. “We make it possible for doctors and scientists to do research they wouldn’t have done because they don’t have our samples, or it would take them a long time to get their own.”