Stem cell bank, age 4, to be closed

BOSTON The University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center have agreed to phase out operation of the embryonic stem cell bank in Shrewsbury, saying the facility, which is 4 years old, has largely outlived its usefulness.

The stem cell bank, slated for closure at the end of the year, was established at the medical school alongside a stem cell registry that collects stem cell research data, to store embryonic stem cell lines from an array of research centers and make them available to scientists around the world.

It was set up at a time when the federal government had banned use of federal funds for research using embryonic stem cells. That ban put in place by President George W. Bush was withdrawn by President Barack Obama after he took office in 2009.

State funding for the bank came as part of a larger state effort to expand life science research across Massachusetts using targeted state grants, tax benefits and by supporting facilities such as the stem cell bank.

Angus G. McQuilken, spokesman for the Life Sciences Center that awarded the project $8.6 million to open and operate, said yesterday that the school and Life Sciences officials have agreed to wind down the bank's operations by the end of this year.

He said the stem cell registry, which received $1.7 million in startup and operational funding from the Life Sciences Center, remains a valued center for compilation of stem cell research and will remain in operation and continue receiving funds from the Life Science Center.

When this investment was made in 2007 it filled an important gap, Mr. McQuilken said, referring to the restrictions on federal support for embryonic stem cell research. Stem cell lines are now more readily available from multiple sources.

Future investment by the state in stem cell research will move in a different direction. The university is building the $400 million Albert Sherman Center, a major new genetic research facility at its Worcester campus.

While it may have quickly outlived its usefulness, the initial investment in the stem cell bank was an important one that made an important statement about the state's commitment to stem cell research, Mr. McQuilken said.

A medical school spokesman said closing the stem cell bank is expected to eliminate about nine jobs. Those displaced will be encouraged to seek other positions at the medical school, officials said.

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Stem cell bank, age 4, to be closed

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