The scientists report generating the first pluripotent line of west African Yoruba heritage in Nature Methods.

An international team of researchers claim stem cell lines with a greater breadth of ethnic genetic diversity must be developed to optimize the use of such cells as research tools and in future therapies. Their analysis of the ethnic background of a number of stem cell lines will form the basis of a new database of human stem cell genetics.

The research will be published in the January issue of Nature Methods in a paper titled “Restricted ethnic diversity in human embryonic stem cell lines.”

Scripps Research Institute professor Jeanne Loring, Ph.D., and colleagues used SNP genotyping to evaluate the ethnic origin of 47 human embryonic stem cell lines and five induced pluripotent stem cell lines from laboratories in countries including Korea, Australia, and Finland. They drew on data from the HuMap Project to identify SNPs related to specific ethnic origins.

The results showed that Caucasians were especially well represented among the stem cell lines. East Asian and mixed heritage cell lines were also common. However, there was a notable lack of cell lines representing African ethnicity. 

To address this, the researchers used skin cells from an individual of West African Yoruba heritage to create a new stem cell line, which they claim is the first to carry the genetic profile of this ethnic group and thus includes distinct genetic markers for disease risk and drug metabolism.

Dr. Loring and his team suggest greater ethnic diversity in cell lines would allow for more broadly relevant stem cell research and allow the development of safer as well as more effective stem cell therapies and tissue transplants.  “Ethnic origin is a critical piece of information that should come with every cell line,” Dr. Loring stresses. “Everyone who works with stem cells should be doing this kind of analysis.

“There’s not a lot of value in making a new pluripotent stem cell line now unless it has something new to offer. I think that increasing ethnicity and genetic diversity is an important reason for generating new lines.”

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