BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - The UK Stem Cell Bank officially opened last week, in time to take receipt of the UK's first two human embryonic stem cell lines.

The bank, the first of its kind in the world, is hosted by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control in a purpose-built GMP facility, in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. It was set up with £2.6 million (US$4.7 million) from the Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

The two stem cell lines being deposited at the bank were derived by researchers at King's College London and the Centre for Life in Newcastle. Working under license from the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority, the stem cell lines were raised from blastocysts that were produced for in vitro fertilization but were unsuitable for implantation.

The center has applied for permission to generate stem cell lines through the nuclear transfer of DNA from adult skin cells to donor eggs, becoming the first institution to request a license for therapeutic cloning.

Other adult and fetal stem cell lines will be held in the bank and are available for use by researchers worldwide, providing they meet certain criteria. Those are in the final stages of agreement, as part of the bank's code of practice. Interested parties have until the end of the month to comment on the code, which also covers donor information and consent in relation to embryo donation, and the licenses, approvals and accreditations needed to deposit stem cell lines.

The donor information and consent form is being piloted in selected in vitro fertilization clinics in the UK.

The bank will ensure that all ethical approvals, donor consents, licenses and accreditation are in place before accepting or releasing cell lines. It is expected that the bank will reduce the need for individual researchers to generate their own stem cell lines, reducing the overall use of human embryos.

Opening the Stem Cell Bank, Minister Lord Warner said it provided evidence of the government's commitment to strengthen stem cell research and development.