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Cellular Dynamics Launches ‘World’s Largest’ Public Stem Cell Bank

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

[Updated 9/2/15 8:54 am. See below.] In 2013, Cellular Dynamics vowed to create induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines from the cells of 3,000 donors—some healthy, some diseased—as part of a $32 million initiative funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

Today, the Madison, WI-based biotech is starting to make good on its pledge.

Cellular Dynamics, aka CDI, has made 300 iPS cell lines available to any company, institution or individual researcher for purchase, says a company spokeswoman. CDI executive vice president Chris Parker says the remaining 2,700 lines will become available by the end of 2016. [This paragraph has been updated to reflect that the 300 iPS cell lines are available to all researchers, not just Cellular Dynamics customers.]

According to a press release issued Tuesday, the unveiling of the first 300 iPS cell lines marks “the launch of the world’s largest publicly available stem cell bank,” known as the CIRM hPSC Repository (the “h” stands for “human”).

“To our knowledge, this is the largest funded bank…that goes from tissue to iPS line,” says Parker. A biobank is typically measured by number of donors, he says.

The 300 cell lines CDI made available include cells from donors with autism, cardiomyopathy, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, according to the press release.

iPS cells can be differentiated into any type of cell found in the human body. They can be made from adult cells taken from a skin or blood sample. The method has advantages over the use of embryonic stem cells to derive specialized cells such as heart, muscle, or nerve cells. That research method has been an ethical lightning rod, because it requires destroying early stage human embryos in the process.

CDI, which Tokyo-based Fujifilm acquired in March for $307 million, had won the CIRM grant in 2013 by teaming up with a distribution partner on the project, the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, a non-profit based in Camden, NJ.

CIRM, California’s stem cell research funding agency, awarded the grant to the two organizations in March 2013, shortly after the agency started to focus more on clinical treatments. It has attempted to rebrand itself into a leaner, more industry-friendly outfit as its cash reserves dwindle and questions emerge regarding what taxpayers have gotten for the $3 billion in bond money the grantmaking institution received from 2004 to 2014.

Of the 2013 CIRM award for the bank of iPS cells, half of the $32 million total was earmarked for CDI, $10 million went to Coriell, and the remainder was to be used to help academic centers sign up donors.

CIRM requires the organizations it funds to conduct the activities covered by their awards in the state of California, so CDI and Coriell together built out a lab for the iPS cell bank project in Novato at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

Parker says one thing that sets the hPSC Repository apart from other stem cell banks is the amount of data packed into each sample.

“The diseases, the demographic information that’s associated with them, the clinical data, the genetic and genomic data available—that’s what’s really making these lines valuable,” he says.

Donors gave consent for their tissue samples to “be used for a variety of research purposes,” giving investigators considerable latitude, says Parker.

Coriell’s databases house donors’ records, including their consent forms, as well as information on the genetic characteristics and derivation of the cells.

Researchers can use the iPS cells of an autistic person to, for instance, produce neurons in a lab dish. Those neurons may express some of the fundamental irregularities that lead to autism.

“One of key elements to being able to put a disease in a dish is to get access to donors that have that disease,” says Parker. This may allow pharmaceutical companies to test experimental drugs on cells in a lab, rather than on ailing human beings in a clinic. “We put the infrastructure into place to be able to industrialize the process of parallel reprogramming and parallel differentiation so we could literally put a clinical trial into a dish.”