BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - The Medical Research Council announced the establishment of the UK Stem Cell Bank, a single national, independent institute to manage and supply ethically approved, quality-controlled stem cell lines for research.

The £2.6 million (US$4 million) contract to set up the bank has been awarded to the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control. The bank will hold existing and new adult, fetal and embryonic stem cell lines. The formation of the stem cell bank follows government approval, in March, for stem cell research using human embryos.

Two UK companies, ReNeuron Holdings plc, of Guildford, and CellFactors plc, of Cambridge, said they will donate cell lines to the bank, and encouraged other companies to do likewise.

ReNeuron will deposit a fully characterized mesencephalon (mid-brain) line developed from human fetal brain tissue. Those cells are stable, can be grown readily in tissue culture and will mature into both neurons and glia. The company said the cells are of particular interest to Parkinson's disease researchers.

CellFactors said it would make available to the bank its conditionally immortalized neural cell lines, which will be guaranteed free of the prion disease, new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob's disease. Speaking to BioWorld International, Iain Cubitt, CEO of CellFactors, questioned the clinical value of stem cell lines that do not have that guarantee, as he does not believe the FDA will accept any cells of European origin because of the risk of CJD infection.

George Radda, CEO of the MRC, told a conference in London last week, called to discuss how the bank will operate, "Stem cell research holds real promise for the treatment of many life-threatening diseases and conditions, and the bank will allow researchers to explore this enormous potential in a controlled environment."

The conference also heard a video message from actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed in a riding accident and is a supporter of stem cell research.

The bank is to be overseen by a yet-to-be appointed committee that will develop a code of practice for the use of the cell lines and regulate the use of embryonic stem cells.

Researchers believe the creation of the bank and the existence of a supportive regulatory framework will enable the UK to take a lead in the field. However, there was a setback for stem cell research in the UK on Monday, when PPL Therapeutics plc, of Edinburgh, said it was stopping its stem cell research after failing to find a buyer for the program. The move will save the company £700,000 per annum.