A survey of over 200 human embryonic stem cell (hESC) researchers in the US has found almost four in ten respondents had experienced delays in obtaining cell lines and over one quarter said they were unable to obtain a required cell line at all. The results, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, suggest US researchers continue to face logistical and funding difficulties in obtaining cell lines for research.
'The survey results provide empirical data to support previously anecdotal concerns that delays in acquiring or an inability to acquire certain [hESC] lines may be hindering stem cell science in the US', said study author Dr Aaron Levine, assistant professor at the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.
Almost 400 scientists from 32 states responded to the online survey, of which 205 said they used hESCs in research. Over three quarters of respondents reported using no more than three cell lines out of the over 1,000 existing lines potentially available, with around half citing access issues as the primary limitation.
Respondents indicated a failure to obtain research approval and federal policy considerations as some of the main reasons for their problems in accessing cell lines, as well as difficulties encountered in completing transfer agreements and some scientists' unwillingness to share cell lines with others.
'Bureaucratic challenges may be inevitable in this ethically contentious and politically sensitive field, but policymakers should attempt to mitigate these issues by doing things like encouraging institutions to accept third-party ownership verification and providing clearer guidance on [hESC] research not eligible for federal funding', said Dr Levine.
The availability of federal funds for hESC research in the US remains at risk. A date has been set for an appeal brought by two scientists who claim that guidelines easing restrictions on hESC research issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are illegal. Dr James Sherley and Theresa Deisher argue the NIH policy violates a 1996 law which prohibits federal funding for research which involves the destruction of human embryos and argue the money is better spent on research using adult stem cell.
A federal appeals court will hear oral arguments on 23 April next year with its decision expected in the autumn.