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Fact Sheet

July 14, 2004

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

“Stem cell research is still at an early, uncertain stage, but the hope it offers is amazing: infinitely adaptable human cells to replace damaged or defective tissue and treat a wide variety of diseases. Yet the ethics of medicine are not infinitely adaptable. There is at least one bright line: We do not end some lives for the medical benefit of others. For me, this is a matter of conviction: a belief that life, including early life, is biologically human, genetically distinct and valuable.” -- President George W. Bush; August 12, 2001

The President’s Decision is Based on Ethical Principles

The President is committed to pursuing stem cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos.

  • Decision Based on Ethics:  “The President’s policy rests on this significant principle -- no taxpayer funding for embryo destruction -- not an assumption regarding the number of stem cell lines. Even as the science develops, this principle does not change,” as Secretary Thompson said at the time of the 2001 decision, “neither unexpected scientific breakthroughs nor unanticipated research problems would cause the President to reverse this policy.”

  • Bipartisan Support for Ethical Treatment of Human Embryos:  The principle that human embryos merit respect as a form of human life -- and that the Federal government should not fund their destruction -- has been adopted by Congress on a bipartisan basis for a number of years.  Annually, since 1996, Congress has adopted legislative language stating that HHS funds may not be used in research involving the destruction of human embryos.

  • Broad Support Internationally:  This principle is also shared by a number of other countries.  In fact, some European countries including, Germany, Austria, and Ireland, ban altogether the destruction of human embryos to create stem cell lines. 

The President Supports Exploring the Promise of Stem Cell Research

President Bush understands the pain of individuals and their families suffering through the illness of a loved one.  The President remains committed to fully exploring the promise and potential of stem cell research without violating ethical principles and while maintaining respect for all human life.  The Bush Administration was the first to provide federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.  In keeping with this commitment, the Administration:

  • Provided FY 2003 funding of $24.8 million for human embryonic stem cell research, an increase of 132 percent from FY 2002; in FY 2003 the Administration has strongly supported promising research using adult stem cells by providing $190.7 million for human non-embryonic stem cells (adult stem cells, including those from cord blood, placenta, and bone marrow).

  • Clarification of current NIH rules to enable researchers to participate in privately-funded stem cell research without compromising their ability to receive NIH funding for separate projects.

  • NIH currently funds three Exploratory Centers of Excellence to promote basic research on embryonic stem cells.

  • NIH is also engaged in a project on its Bethesda campus to comprehensively analyze the properties of the stem cell lines that are eligible for federal funding, which will provide researchers with valuable information.

  • NIH developed five training courses to help American and foreign scientists acquire needed skills and techniques to culture human embryonic stem cell lines.

  • NIH has funded an adult stem cell bank which provides mesenchymal stem cells to the research community.  This type of adult stem cell is able to proliferate, which lends itself to the degree of expansion necessary for wide distribution; they have also been shown to have the capacity to differentiate into specialized cells. It is worth noting that Federal funds are available for the derivation of adult stem cells. 

New Steps to Further Accelerate Stem Cell Research

In keeping with the President’s commitment, the Administration is announcing:

  • With the goal of exploiting new discoveries in basic embryonic and adult stem cell biology, NIH will also establish Centers of Excellence in Translational Stem Cell Research, where stem cell researchers will be working side by side with clinical researchers, transplant surgeons, and other medical researchers who are experts in diseases such diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease and other conditions that may benefit from this research. 

  • NIH will soon establish a new National Embryonic Stem Cell Bank, that will consolidate some of the human embryonic cell lines eligible for funding in one location, reduce the costs that researchers have to pay for the cells, and maintain uniform quality control over the cells. Research conducted at the Bank will provide important insights about which cells might be most useful for a specific basic or translational research activity by exploring the functional diversity of the cell lines.

The State of Embryonic Stem Cell Science

Under President Bush’s policy, this science is advancing faster than it ever has in the past.  As of February 2004, more than 400 shipments of eligible stem cell lines had been sent to researchers.  Today, there are more than 3500 additional shipments are maintained by the owners and available to be shipped.

Number of Lines Available for Federal Funding

  • 78 derivations of human embryonic stem cells meet the criteria established by the President and listed on the NIH Registry, although since the August 2001 announcement 16 of these derivations failed to grow into lines that would be usable for research.

  • With assistance from NIH, the owners of 19 of the lines agreed to make their lines available for use by researchers in the U.S. and abroad.  Four other derivations are being developed into lines today; two of them will be available in the near future for broad distribution, while two others are still under development. Still others are being preserved by their owners until the science develops further. No other country in the world has made as many stem cell lines widely available.  

  • Because stem cell lines divide continuously in culture, these lines can be used by hundreds of individual researchers.  One line alone has already resulted in 136 shipments to researchers.

  • These lines are being employed to study many unanswered questions that must be answered before the cells can be used in human therapies.  For example, determined cell culture conditions that allowed one line to differentiate into neurons similar to the dopamine-producing neurons that degenerate in Parkinson=s Disease.  This advance is the first step towards generating neurons that may be useful in treating this disorder.  Other scientists used an eligible line to form 3-dimensional structures with characteristics of developing liver tissue, cartilage, nerve, or blood vessels.  This technique may permit scientists to generate tissue for use in skin grafts, wound treatment, or organ transplantation. 

Private and State Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research is Available

The President’s policy places no obstacles in the path of private or state funding for stem cell research – researchers are receiving support from both sources, in addition to support from the Federal Government.

  • Based on 2002 data, one study reports that private sector research and development in stem cells was being conducted by approximately 1000 scientists in over 30 firms.  Aggregate spending was estimated at $208 million.1  Geron Corporation alone reported that it spent more than $70 million on stem cell research by September 2003. 

  • In the Stem Cell Business News Guide to Stem Cell Companies (Feb 2003), 61 U.S. and international companies are listed as pursuing some form of research or therapeutic product development involving stem cells.  For example, Geron Corp. has announced plans to seek FDA approval to pursue human trials.

  • Some states ban the destruction of human embryonic stem cells for research.  Some permit it, but do not fund it (consistent with federal policy).  And still other states provide funding. 

  • As with most medical research, the effort to explore the promise of this science and to develop treatments and cures will require the combined efforts of both the public and private sector. 

1. Lysaght, J.J., and Hazlehurst, A.L., Private Sector Development of Stem Technology and Therapeutic Cloning," Tissue Engineering 9(3): 555-561 (2003).


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Last Revised: August 18, 2004