A survey of more than 200 human embryonic stem cell researchers in the US found that nearly 40% of researchers have faced excessive delay in acquiring a human embryonic stem cell line and that more than 25% were unable to acquire a line they wanted to study.
“The survey results provide empirical data to support previously anecdotal concerns that delays in acquiring or an inability to acquire certain human embryonic stem cell lines may be hindering stem cell science in the United States,” said Aaron Levine, an assistant professor in the School of Public Policy in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Levine administered the web-based survey in November 2010 to more than 1,400 stem cell scientists working at U.S. academic and non‐profit medical research institutions. Almost 400 respondents from 32 states completed the survey. Of those, 205 respondents reported using human embryonic stem cells in their research, and their responses were used in this study.
The surveyed scientists cited four main reasons for their problems accessing human embryonic stem cell lines: difficulty obtaining material transfer agreements, failure to acquire research approval from internal institutional oversight committees, cell line owners that were unwilling to share and federal policy considerations.
“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 human embryonic stem cell research not eligible for federal funding,” said Levine, who is also a member of the Georgia Tech Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.
The broad patents assigned to the initial inventors of the method used to isolate embryonic stem cells and numerous narrower patents claiming specific human embryonic stem cell-related techniques are also factors complicating access to human embryonic stem cell lines, according to Levine.
Results of the survey were published in the December issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology.