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Banking on Stem Cells

The world’s first embryonic-stem-cell bank has opened in Hertfordshire, England. Great Britain’s Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council are funding the bank, which will store stem cells of all sorts–adult, fetal, and embryonic–to help make…

The world’s first embryonic-stem-cell bank has opened in Hertfordshire, England. Great Britain’s Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council are funding the bank, which will store stem cells of all sorts–adult, fetal, and embryonic–to help make them available to researchers worldwide.

The bank’s first two “deposits” are embryonic stem cell lines created at King’s College London and the Centre for Life, a research facility in Newcastle upon Tyne. These cells, derived from embryos created during fertility treatments, have the ability to become any type of tissue in the human body; they hold the potential to cure diseases ranging from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to diabetes, as well as possibly reverse the paralysis suffered by victims of spinal cord injuries.

Although Britain has much more liberal policies governing stem cell research than does the U.S., the bank has nevertheless drawn the ire of anti-abortion activists. That’s unfortunate, since the could become a tremendous resource to researchers investigating all types of stem cells. In fact, it could be a boon to the field along the lines that GenBank, a repository of gene sequences, has been to geneticists. Also unfortunate is the fact that U.S. scientists supported by federal funds won’t be able to take advantage of the embryonic stem cells lines in the bank.

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