The scientists said their finding raises social justice questions that must be addressed to ensure all sectors of society benefit from stem cell advances.
The university team, in the first published study of its kind, analyzed 47 embryonic stem cell lines, including most of the lines commonly used by researchers. The scientists determined the genetic ancestry of each line and found most were derived from donors of northern and western European ancestry, several of the lines are of Middle Eastern or southern European ancestry and two lines are of East Asian origin. None of the lines was derived from individuals of recent African ancestry, from Pacific Islanders or from populations indigenous to the Americas.
"Embryonic stem cell research has the potential to change the future of medicine," said Professor Sean Morrison, director of the university's 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."
The research appears in the New England Journal of Medicine.