Leading the Way in Stem Cell Banking, cGMP Characterization, and Cell Line Validation in 2023

As we approach the end of 2023, it's a fitting time to reflect on the growth WiCell has made over the year and to look forward to the exciting opportunities that lie ahead in 2024. In this special year-end blog, we feature insights from three key figures at WiCell: Robert Drape, CEO; Tenneille Ludwig, Senior Scientist and Director of the WiCell Stem Cell Bank; and Seth Taapken, Director of Operations. Together with the entire WiCell staff, they have played integral roles in guiding our organization through a year of growth and innovation. Each of them brings a unique perspective on WiCell's achievements and future goals, painting a comprehensive picture of our journey this past year and the path we're forging into the new year.
The Waisman Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Credit: Clark Kellogg
The Waisman Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Credit: Clark Kellogg
Robert Drape, WiCell CEO
As we wrap up another year at WiCell, I can't help but reflect on how our journey mirrors the growth in the cell therapy field. 2023 has been a year where our connection to major industry milestones became even more evident. Take, for instance, BlueRock's Phase I study in patients with Parkinson’s disease meeting its primary endpoint, using an investigational cell therapy which has its roots in one of the original lines derived by James Thomson at UW-Madison. It's moments like these that underscore the role WiCell plays in driving the stem cell field forward. 
This past year has seen us not only expanding our cell line offerings but also wrapping up a significant project—our newest H9 cGMP bank, a collaborative effort with Waisman Biomaufacturing, part of the Waisman Center located at UW-Madison. In addition, our dedication to quality and rigor, especially in our cGMP services, has stood up to the scrutiny of our pharmaceutical industry partners. It's gratifying to know that our foundational principles and uncompromising focus on quality are not just words but are reflected in our actions and services. 
I take great pride in our team at WiCell and am honored to be part of it. In 2023, we welcomed a dynamic mix of new colleagues, complementing our existing team by filling key positions and adding new roles. Their diverse experience and expertise are set to further our mission and open new avenues for growth for us. Our ongoing development of new assays underlines our dedication to maintaining a leading edge in cell characterization and testing. As we look ahead, the introduction of new technologies and services, including our cGMP STR service, reflects our commitment to expanding and improving the options available to our customer base.  
As CEO, when I consider our stakeholders, from the UW-Madison, to our Board, and to the researchers relying on our services, my constant thought is: "What more can we do for you?" At WiCell, we're not just about growth for the sake of growth. We're about serving the scientific community, about pushing the boundaries of what's possible in stem cell research and supporting the research to the best of our abilities. So, as we step into the new year, we do so with the question, "How can we better serve your needs?" Because, at the end of the day, it's all about moving this field forward, together. 

Dr. Tenneille Ludwig presenting the ISSCR Stem Cell Standards to the SCRMC at UW-Madison
Dr. Tenneille Ludwig presenting the ISSCR Stem Cell Standards to the SCRMC at UW-Madison
Tenneille Ludwig, Ph.D., Senior Scientist and Director of the WiCell Stem Cell Bank
As 2023 concludes, WiCell continues to reinforce its position as a leader in stem cell banking and distribution, demonstrated by our ongoing advancements and collaborations in the field. A highlight this year was working on behalf of the ISSCR along with other leading experts in the stem cell community to develop and publish the Standards for Human Stem Cell Use in Research. This multi-year effort allowed us to collaborate in the consensus driven development of global standards that will significantly impact the quality of stem cell research across the field. This effort, and our active involvement with groups like Stem Cell COREdinates, ISCI and ISCBI demonstrates our dedication to not just participating in, but actively shaping the future of stem cell research.
We continue to expand the WiCell Stem Cell Bank to offer increasing diversity and additional  depth in disease model systems to promote active research toward cures. Key in this effort was continuing to advance our partnership with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a move that paves the way for new Parkinson’s stem cells to join our diverse cell line bank. This addition promises to enrich the resources available to researchers globally, driving forward critical studies in neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, the expansion of our cell line collection through the addition of several new lines this year has been instrumental in empowering novel research endeavors, particularly in drug development and innovative therapies—which we are very excited about.

In facing the challenges of growth and change, we've navigated staffing realignments and embraced expansion, which will enable us to offer cGMP storage in the future and broaden our WiCellSAFE services. This expansion isn't just physical; it's a reflection of our evolving capabilities and our commitment to providing top-tier resources to the scientific community. As we look toward 2024, WiCell remains committed to our mission of supporting regenerative medicine and cell and gene therapy. This commitment involves continuing to promote best practices in cell banking and characterization, and providing high-quality materials and testing services. Our ongoing involvement in collaborative projects with a number of international consortia along with the anticipated expansion of our diverse cell line bank exemplify our dedication to advancing research and clinical applications, both at UW-Madison and globally. At WiCell, we are more than a collection of cell lines; we are an active participant in the community of innovation, partnering in the pursuit of scientific breakthroughs. Our resolve is to continue supporting, collaborating, and driving the field of stem cell research forward towards exciting new discoveries and applications in the year ahead.

Fluorescence in Situ Hybridization (FISH)
Fluorescence in Situ Hybridization (FISH)
Seth Taapken, Director of Operations
As 2023 comes to a close, WiCell is excited to celebrate our achievements while looking ahead to further growth. Our team's focused efforts on our missions of service to UW-Madison and characterization services have continued to contribute to the evolving field of cell and gene therapy at UW-Madison and beyond. WiCell is excited to be a trusted partner in supporting the development of investigational new drugs and facilitating drug product release testing with our best-in-class cytogenetic testing and cGMP services. It is a very exciting time to be part of this movement and we’re honored that our expertise is valued by this innovative community. Our collaboration with academic laboratories and our UW Core Services has been a bright spot as well, as we provide them with the necessary support to drive forward their groundbreaking research.

A significant highlight this past year has been the initial steps we've taken towards expanding our services, particularly with the planning of our state-of-the-art cGMP services lab. This initiative, set to break ground in 2024, underscores our commitment to staying at the forefront of stem cell characterization while driving our quality systems forward to better serve our clients. We understand the challenges our industry faces and continue to be proactive in our services, enhancing our g-banded karyotype and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) workflows with advanced imaging equipment and expanding our team with skilled professionals dedicated to our mission.

Looking ahead to 2024, we're thrilled about the potential of our upcoming projects. We’re looking forward to further supporting our clients by introducing our cGMP STR testing services and developing optical genome mapping services. These advancements signify our unwavering dedication to meeting the evolving needs of our clients, regardless of where they are in their research journey. As we bid farewell to a fruitful 2023, we eagerly anticipate the innovations and collaborations that 2024 promises, driven by our talented and dedicated WiCell team.

Thank you for your trust in us during this past year and into 2024!

As we close the chapter on 2023 and look forward to the advancements of 2024, we at WiCell stand firm in our mission, filled with optimism for what the new year holds. Together with our dedicated staff and invaluable partners, we are ready to embrace the prospects that 2024 brings. We invite you to reach out to us to discuss how we can work together with WiCell as your trusted lab partner to foster discovery and innovation in the new year. Here's to a future where, together, we continue to push the boundaries of scientific exploration and progress.