Sep 1, 2015

A $32 million public-private bank — where California researchers collect stem cells and scientists from around the world can make withdrawals — officially opened Tuesday with the aim of accelerating the use of engineered stem cells to tackle a wide range of diseases.
The bank, funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and located at Novato’s Buck Institute for Research on Aging, already is making 300 induced pluripotent stem cell lines available to researchers studying heart, lung, liver and blinding eye diseases as well as epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Officials at San Francisco-based CIRM, which is the state’s stem cell research funding agency, said the bank is the largest in the world, based on the number of donors, and will have 750 cell lines by February. But it also is a big win for CIRM as critics push the agency to show some bang from the more than $2 billion it has spent since California voters in 2004 approved selling $3 billion in bonds for stem cell research.

CIRM in March 2013 approved spending $32 million to create the bank of induced pluripotent stem cells, which are “mature” cells, such as the skin, that are manipulated to return to their embryonic state. At that point, the bank can coax the cells back to a mature state but as heart, liver, skin or any other organ.

The process — with major contributions from Nobel Prize winner Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco — means that a researcher isn’t required to get true embryonic stem cells from the brain of an autism patient, for example, and can instead get skin cells that can be turned into brain cells.

Some of the collected cells will be from people with a specific condition, so researchers will have cells with the same genetic makeup as people with the disease. Other cells will be from healthy people, which will give bank operators a control group to compare healthy and disease-affected cells.
Half of CIRM’s money went to Cellular Dynamics International Inc. — a Madison, Wisc.-based cell manufacturer that was co-founded by stem cell pioneer Jamie Thomson and is a unit of Fujifilm Holdings Corp. (TYO: 4901) — which turns the cells into different cell lines. Some $10 million went to Coriell Institute for Medical Research, which stores the cell lines at the Buck Institute and distributes them to researchers worldwide.

The remaining $6 million is earmarked for clinicians at seven California sites, including Stanford University and UCSF, who collect skin or blood samples from consenting patients during office visits.
There is a cost for the cells, said CIRM spokesman Kevin McCormack, that depends on the number of cells ordered and whether a researcher is from academia, a nonprofit or a for-profit company.

“We believe the bank will be an extraordinarily important resource in helping advance the use of stem cell tools for the study of diseases and finding new ways to treat them,” said Jonathan Thomas, chair of CIRM’s governing board, in a press release.