Buck Institute to House First-Of-Its-Kind Stem Cell Bank

The Buck Institute’s Ralph O’Rear (left) and CDI’s Tom Novak look at lab space in the Regenerative Medicine Research facility

When you need money you go to the bank. But where do scientists go when they need high quality stem cells for their research? Starting this summer they’ll come to the Buck Institute – where those cells will be created, stored and distributed to scientists in California and around the world.

The bank, funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), will focus on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). An iPSC is a cell taken from any tissue and then is genetically reengineered to behave like an embryonic stem cell. As the name implies, these cells are pluripotent, which means that they have the ability to form all adult cell types. In this case, the iPSCs will be created from tissue samples from 3,000 people representing 11 diseases. The objective is to create “disease-in-a-dish” research models that could quickly lead to cures for a wide range of maladies.

CIRM awarded $16 million to Wisconsin-based Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) to take the different tissue samples and reengineer them into 9,000 cell lines. The stem cell agency also awarded nearly $10 million to the Coriell Institute for Medical Research to store and distribute the cell lines. Both companies will lease a total of about 4,500 square feet of space in the Buck’s new Regenerative Medicine Research Center and hire staff for their new operations.

“We looked all over California for options for our new facility,” said Tom Novak, PhD, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at CDI. “The Buck was the best in terms of scientific support services, facilities and opportunities for us to interact and collaborate with top academic researchers in the field.”

In addition to having new scientific collaborators on site, the Buck Institute will benefit financially. “The five-year leases will help diversify the Institute’s revenue stream, which is heavily dependent on federal research grants which are in sharp decline,” said Ralph O’Rear, the Institute’s Vice President for Facilities and Planning, who was involved in negotiations with both outside organizations.

“CDI is a pioneer in stem cell technology which makes them a perfect tenant for our new research center,” said Brian Kennedy, PhD, President and CEO of the Buck Institute. “Their work and this new initiative have the potential to revolutionize the treatment of a myriad of diseases. We are proud they chose to work with us -- Buck faculty are looking forward to collaborating with them on new research.”

CIRM has two overall objectives in establishing the new stem cell bank. They want to help scientists understand the basic biology of the 11 targeted diseases, which include Alzheimer’s, heart disease, lung fibrosis and autism. They also want to facilitate the screening of compounds and existing drugs that could be used to treat the conditions. The derived cells will be genetically identical to the people who donated tissue samples.

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