12 Sep WiCell, California firm agree to distribute stem cell lines derived with new technique
Madison, Wis. – Maybe there is something to this new technique of deriving stem cells without destroying embryos after all.
The Madison-based WiCell Research Institute, which houses the nation’s only stem cell bank, has announced an agreement in principle with Advanced Cell Technology to jointly distribute to U.S. scientists a range of new cell lines produced using a controversial new technique.
The agreement is subject to federal recognition and funding of new stem cell lines, but it calls for the two entities to make the new stem cell lines readily available to U.S. scientists for medical research. It may also impact a key issue in this year’s gubernatorial race – the candidate’s positions on public funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Under the agreement, WiCell, a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), would distribute stem cell lines derived from Advanced Cell Technology’s proprietary method, if approved by President Bush and the National Institutes of Health.
The technique can purportedly extract stem cells from early stage embryos without destroying them, and was greeted with great fanfare when it was first announced in the peer-reviewed journal Nature. Since then, however, Advanced Cell Technology has acknowledged that embryos were destroyed in the process, but maintained the viability of extracting stem cells without embryonic destruction.
“Advanced Cell Technology’s development is very encouraging,” Elizabeth Donley, executive director of WiCell, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that future human embryonic stem cells created by this new process can be approved for federal funding.”
As the nation’s first stem cell bank, WiCell has provided a free license and training to scientists interested in pursuing the new technology, and more than 350 academic research groups are working with cells from WiCell. Donley said that increasing the number of federally funded stem cell lines is essential for speeding the development of stem cell technology, which scientists believe can be used to find cures or treatments for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s Disease.
WiCell has agreements to distribute 13 of the 21 lines currently available on the National Institutes of Health Registry. Under current federal policy, these lines are the only embryonic stem cell lines that are eligible for federal funding.
In a prepared statement, William M. Caldwell, IV, CEO of Advanced Cell Technology, reiterated that the agreement is conditioned on federal approval. “Provided that the federal government is willing to fund future human embryonic stem cell research where it can be demonstrated that the embryo was not harmed, we will do our part in scaling up many new lines under Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) guidelines and making such lines available,” he said. “We are well aware of the impact that delays in advancing new therapies can have on people in need of therapy, and provided that the federal government advances legislation in an expeditious manner, we will make the derivation of new lines a company priority.”
The debate over whether to make new federal funding available for additional embryonic stem cell lines has dominated Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race. Gov. Jim Doyle has supported measures, including House Resolution 810, that would allow federal funding for surplus embryos created at in-vitro fertilization clinics to be used for stem cell research. The bill passed in both houses of Congress but was vetoed by Bush.
His Republican opponent, Congressman Mark Green, voted against H.R. 810 in 2005, and has been supportive of the president’s policy. Until Advanced Cell Technology’s discovery, Green had been on the defensive on stem cell policy in a state that has been a leader in the controversial research.
Last week, however, Green announced a plan to provide $25 million in state funding over four years to WiCell to conduct peer-reviewed research into technologies that create stem cell lines without destroying human embryos. Under the plan, independent investigators from the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Marshfield Clinic, and the private sector would participate in the research.
At the time, the Doyle campaign called the proposal “another stem cell research red herring” from Green, and said it was irresponsible and dishonest for him to use unproven science in an attempt to trick voters into thinking he supports stem cell research.
However, following WiCell’s latest announcement, Green issued the following statement: “Today’s announcement by WiCell demonstrates the importance of my proposal – one that would invest $25 million in state funds over the next four years to keep this important research going. Furthermore, it shows we can continue exploring the great promise of stem cell research without the ethical dilemma that comes with destroying embryos.”
Thus far, efforts to reach the Doyle campaign have not been successful, but State Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, said WiCell’s agreement with Advanced Cell Technology validates Green’s plan and moves science closer to the day when it will not need embryos to derive stem cells. “What is does is open another front in the effort to derive stem cells,” Kanavas said, “and that front is one that’s very valuable.”
Kanavas, who played a prominent role in the development of Green’s plan, said he is drafting a bill that will put it on a legislative track.
• Green unveils $25 million stem cell plan
• There’s a new dynamic in the stem cell debate
• Bush vetoes stem cell research bill
• Doyle authorizes $5 million to woo stem cell companies
• Doyle wants Wis. to capture 10 percent of stem-cell market