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Donley has growth plans for stem cell bank

Madison, Wis. - The WiCell Research Institute, the non-profit host of the National Stem Cell Bank controlling all 21 federally funded stem cell lines in the U.S., has selected Beth Donley as its new executive director.

Donley, who led litigation and patent-drafting efforts as the institute's general counsel, is now implementing its growth strategy and strategic direction at a time when the race to commercialize stem cell technology is igniting across the globe.

Established in 1999, WiCell conducts and supports stem cell research in collaboration with University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists and provides training for outside researchers.

"As the research community grows both at the university and throughout the world," Donley said, "there are just more people who want [stem] cells and more people who want media, and more people who need advice on how to grow them."

In one of the first moves to grow WiCell and its research support services, Donley has targeted for expansion its joint project with the Madison-based NimbleGen Systems, Inc. and its Iceland facility. Dr. James Thomson, the first scientist to isolate human embryonic stem cells, and his collaborators have reached capacity limits in the labs currently available there.
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"We have a lot of stem cell scientists on campus who would like to use that facility, including investigators from the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research," Donley said.

Donley is exploring grant opportunities with Iceland's government and the European Union, which is currently opening a possible funding mechanism called the "Seventh Framework Programme."

WiCell also is working to recruit scientists to populate the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery before its construction is complete. UW-Madison already has identified a need for an expanded bioinformatics team to study data readouts from laboratory gene chips.

Growing the base

Donley said WiCell will continue to execute its four-year, $16 million federal stem cell bank contract. The contract is partly responsible for WiCell's almost twofold growth this past year, with added technicians for culturing stem cell lines.

The National Stem Cell Bank was established at WiCell in September 2005 to acquire, characterize, and distribute the 21 human embryonic stem cell lines and their sub-clones, which are available for use in federally funded research programs, and to provide technical support to the research community.

One of the goals of that ongoing operation is to provide a centralized and consistent set of standards for stem cell culture conditions. Donley said she would like to collaborate with the broader scientific community to create those standards.

Patented controversy

Donley holds a law degree and master's of science in bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a master's of business administration in finance from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

In her new role, she will continue to serve as legal counsel on the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation stem cell portfolio management team. Prior to her appointment to lead WiCell, Donley served as WARF's general counsel for eight years.

Donley is perhaps best known for an address she made last year during a conference in San Francisco, when she said WARF would demand license fees and payments on all embryonic stem cell research funded under Proposition 71, a ballot initiative approved by California voters.

Three stem cell patents held by WARF are being challenged before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which could rule this month on whether it will review their validity.

The request to review the patents was filed by the Public Patent Foundation on behalf of the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which views WARF's stem cell patents as overly broad and claims they are limiting research.

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