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A one-stop-shop for disease-specific human stem cells allows scientists to focus on research

Before the establishment of EBiSC, sharing disease-specific stem cell lines for research and development was fraught with challenges

Automated cell culture © Fraunhofer IBMT, Photo: Bernd Müller
EBiSC central facility processing © Fraunhofer IBMT, Photo: Bernd Müller


Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) can be generated from tissues of people diagnosed with certain diseases, as well as healthy people, and then used to generate specific cell-types, which can then be used by researchers to carry out experiments.

Making disease-specific iPSC lines from scratch is laborious and complicated, and re-use of cell lines already generated in other projects is more efficient. However, when researchers share iPSC lines, the cell lines run the risk of being transferred with little information about the donor or ethical consent, the source, or other important data like potential genetic abnormalities. Cell lines might even be contaminated.

In addition, variability between cell lines that are purportedly of the same origin can limit the comparability and reproducibility of research. That’s not to mention the burden on researchers of having to manage storage, quality control and distribution of cell lines. These challenges are a drain on resources. To help fix the problem, a public-private partnership was set-up in 2014 to establish EBiSC, the European Bank for induced pluripotent Stem Cells.

What EBiSC does

EBiSC allows researchers to deposit their cell lines into one centralised repository, which ensures that cells are properly stored and enables distribution to the wider scientific community via a public catalogue, along with their relevant datasets. In addition, EBiSC can also help with reprogramming, gene-editing and characterising new iPSC lines and sharing knowledge and best practices. In the future, EBiSC plans to also include iPSCs that are pre-differentiated to diverse and defined cell types, as well as develop bulk production capabilities. Altogether, this will help simplify research using iPSCs, particularly for non-expert users.

“A typical use case is that a research project reaches out to EBiSC to request whether iPSC lines they are generating can be deposited into the bank. EBiSC reviews the consent used to collect the original biosamples, and records all details and then registers them in the human Pluripotent Stem Cell registry ‘hPSCreg’ with a unique identifier to support traceability,” explains Dr Bryan Bolton, Interim Head of the European Collection of Authenticated Cell Cultures (ECACC) and leader of EBiSC banking operations.

An agreement is signed before depositing iPSC lines, and then vials can be shipped to EBiSC for safe storage (the ECACC, in the UK, is the core distribution centre with stocks of all deposited iPSC lines, while a mirror bank in Germany at Fraunhofer IBMT (project coordinator) acts as backup). Depositors can then simply direct other researchers to EBiSC to access their lines.

Depositors, Dr Bolton adds, retain full ownership rights on their lines and can continue using and sharing them as they choose. Customers can quickly access iPSC lines from the desired donor background, selecting for age, sex, disease or phenotype, as well as familial or isogenic controls.

“As the lines are listed on a public catalogue, the impact of their research is highly visible and publications and datasets are clearly linked to the relevant cell lines. We are currently aware of more than 100 publications using EBiSC iPSC lines, with likely many more available and in progress,” he says.

Hitting the ground running

The IMI project ADAPTED reached out to EBiSC for gene-editing of four different iPSC lines (male and female, those with Alzheimer’s disease and without) to generate ApoE variants in each (the ApoE gene is implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s). A total of 20 lines were generated, banked, quality-controlled, and distributed. Collaborating with EBiSC allowed ADAPTED to generate the lines rapidly, and the simplified procedures and EBiSC’s expertise allowed them to hit the ground running. The cell lines have been shared internationally, generating substantial revenues that support the sustainability of EBiSC and ADAPTED.  

EBiSC and the follow-on EBiSC2 project respond to the interest and needs of both academia and industry. “Third party obligations and associated licensing requirements are different across non-profit and for-profit organisations,” says Dr Andreas Ebneth, Senior Scientific Director at Janssen Pharmaceutica and EBiSC2 project lead, “and input from private partners has been essential to better understand key issues and implement a distribution process which works for both organisational types.”

“The insight and guidance of for-profit organisations has been critical for identifying upcoming areas of research,” he says. “EBiSC makes industry standards and tools available to the whole scientific community and boosts a collaborative spirit in other research projects.”

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