Brussels, 19 May 2004
The UK stem cell bank, the only such facility in the world, officially opened on 19 May with the deposit of the first human embryonic stem cell line ever developed in Europe.
The inauguration of the bank, which will eventually contain stem cell lines derived from embryos, foetuses and adults, places the UK at the forefront of one of the most controversial areas of modern science.
The new line was grown by Dr Stephen Minger and Dr Susan Pickering from King's College London. The pair used a novel technique to harvest the stem cells from a human embryo donated by patients undergoing pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) therapy at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospital.
Professor Peter Braude, who heads up the pre-implantation genetic programme at the hospital, said: 'We are very grateful to our patients for rising to this need to help us develop a national resource for research and therapy [...], comfortable in the knowledge that their contribution has not jeopardised their own fertility or genetic treatment in any way.'
The bank's raison d'etre is to store, characterise and clone cells, thereby providing scientists in Europe and the rest of the world with a source of high quality stem cell lines for research purposes. A number of embryonic stem cell lines have already been developed in other parts of the world, but their quality can vary and access to them is limited and expensive.
Dr Minger, head of the stem cell laboratory at King's College London, said: 'The stem cells we are banking will be a crucial resources for future research into diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The bank accepts only high quality lines that will be of benefit to other scientists, and we are delighted our cells are among the first to be accepted.'
Before a new stem cell line can be deposited in the bank, or access granted to existing lines, all applications must be reviewed and authorised by a high level steering committee. Such controls do not go far enough for many though, and a number of organisations and political parties in Europe have called for the practice of using stem cells derived from human embryos for research purposes to be banned.
Despite ongoing opposition to the bank, however, it is clear that, with further lines waiting to be deposited, European researchers now have access to a resource for stem cell research unequalled anywhere in the world.
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