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Scientists Finding Problems Accessing Stem Cell Lines

Aaron Levine (Georgia Tech)

Aaron Levine (Georgia Tech)

A survey conducted by Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta of U.S. researchers working with stem cells suggests many scientists face road blocks, including rejected access, trying to acquire human embryonic stem cell lines. Results of the survey were published in the December issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology (paid subscription required).

The survey of more than 200 human embryonic stem cell researchers in the U.S., conducted by Aaron Levine (pictured left), a professor in Georgia Tech’s public policy school, found that nearly four in ten researchers reported facing excessive delays in acquiring a human embryonic stem cell line. Another quarter of the sample said they failed to get access to the stem cell lines they needed.

Levine’s survey shows four main reasons for the access problems to stem cell lines. About a third of the respondents (32%) said they had problems of some kind with the material transfer agreement (MTA) needed to ship proprietary items, such as stem cells, from one party to another. The WiCell Research Institute in Madison, Wisconsin, for example, requires in its MTA a memorandum of understanding, plus a separate simple letter agreement, for which it states “terms of the agreements are non-negotiable.” WiCell also charges fees of $1,000 a line for non-commercial and not-for-profit organizations, and higher but unspecified fees to for-profit enterprises.

Another quarter (27%) of respondents said they had problems getting their own institutions’ oversight committees, about two in 10 (19%) cited current stem cell line owners unwilling to share their lines, and about one in seven respondents (14%) mentioned federal policy considerations.

The availability of certain stem cell lines tends to dictate the choice of lines for many researchers. Levine says about half (51%) of the respondents cited a line’s availability as the reasons for requesting that line. By comparison, a little more than one-third (35%) indicated scientific characteristics as the reason for choosing a specific line. Other factors behind the choice of a stem cell line mentioned were the line’s history of being well-studied (29%), funding or policy concerns (18%), and previous experience with the line. including being the line’s derivator (9%).

Levine sent the Web-based survey in November 2010 to some 1,400 stem cell scientists at U.S. academic and not-for-profit research institutions. About 400 researchers n 32 states responded, of which 205 reported using human embryonic stem cells in their research, and their responses were used in this study.

Read more: NIH Approves Four More Embryonic Stem Cell Lines

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