The most widely used human embryonic stem cell lines lack genetic diversity, a new study has found.
According to University of Michigan research team, the finding raises social justice questions that must be addressed to ensure that all sectors of society benefit from stem cell advances.
The researchers analysed 47 embryonic stem cell lines, including most of the lines commonly used by stem cell researchers.
They determined the genetic ancestry of each line and found that most were derived from donors of northern and western European ancestry.
Several of the lines are of Middle Eastern or southern European ancestry. Two of the lines are of East Asian origin. None of the lines were derived from individuals of recent African ancestry, from Pacific Islanders, or from populations indigenous to the Americas.
Also, the researchers identified several instances in which more than one cell line came from the same embryo donors, further reducing the overall genetic diversity of the most widely available lines.
"Embryonic stem cell research has the potential to change the future of medicine," said Sean Morrison, director of the U-M Center for Stem Cell Biology and one of the study leaders.
"But there's a lack of diversity among today's most commonly used human embryonic stem cell lines, which highlights an important social justice issue.
"We expected Europeans to be overrepresented, but we were surprised by how little diversity there is," he added.
The findings have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.