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UMass stem cell bank to close after state funding runs out

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    UMass stem cell bank to close after state funding runs out

    That's too bad after all the money they invested to close it.

    UMass stem cell bank to close after state funding runs out
    By Carolyn Y. Johnson
    Globe Staff / June 28, 2012

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    The stem cell bank that was a marquee piece of Governor Deval Patrick’s effort to bolster the life sciences industry will run out of funding at the end of the year and close, state and University of Massachusetts Medical School officials said Wednesday. The state invested $8.6 million in public funds to establish the bank at the medical school’s Shrewsbury campus.

    That decision in 2008 was seen then as a bold statement of support for research on human embryonic stem cells during a time when federal funding for work on the controversial cells was restricted. But advances in technology and changes to federal policies rapidly made the bank obsolete, state officials said.

    The laboratory grew and stored human stem cells, which are capable of becoming any cell in the body, and made them available to scientists nationwide for use in experiments to study diseases such as diabetes and spinal cord injuries. When it is dismantled, several thousand vials of stem cells will be sent back to the research centers where they originated, and the equipment will be given to other UMass labs.

    Susan Windham-Bannister, president of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a quasi-public agency that oversees the $1 billion life sciences initiative, defended the decision to initially fund the stem cell bank. She said there are many examples of technology that in hindsight are unnecessary, “but at the time it was conceived, when the investment was made, it was absolutely state of the art.” The center, she said, was one of them.

    Originally, the bank was seen as a repository for embryonic stem cell lines that were being created but were not eligible for federal funding under Bush-era restrictions. The field has evolved significantly since then, with President Obama’s loosening of restrictions on federal funding and the development of new technologies for making stem cells.

    Still, stem cell banks are seen as useful by some. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, for example, is preparing to invest $10 million in its own stem cell banking initiative, and another $20 million to underwrite the creation of stem cells from patients with specific diseases.