Update: Stem-Cell Research
Since ICOF last covered stem-cell research in March 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush twice vetoed legislation that would provide federal funding for new embryonic stem-cell research. Meanwhile, scientific advancement in the field went on and governors of several U.S. states authorized funding for stem-cell research.
The issue:Should President Bush ease his policy limiting federal funding for stem-cell research to embryonic stem-cell lines derived before Aug. 9, 2001? Or should the funding remain the same, or be eliminated altogether?
- Supporters of expanding funding for embryonic stem-cell research say: Because the stem-cell lines currently eligible for federal funding are contaminated, Bush's policy essentially eliminates federal funding for this vital field of research. Leaving stem-cell research funding to the states and private investors creates non-uniform research standards and scientific results. Inadequate funding could deny hundreds of millions of Americans cures for their diseases and disorders.
- Opponents of expanding funding for embryonic stem-cell research say: Taking cells from embryos is tantamount to murder; once a sperm and an egg are combined into an embryo, the embryo is a viable being. Embryonic stem-cell research has yet to prove any true advances, while adult stem-cell research and similar alternative methods have already proven to be viable means of researching with stem cells.
In June 2004, on the occasion of the death of former President Ronald Reagan (R, 1981-89), the former actor and politician was lavishly eulogized for his impact on world events. But Reagan's death also brought a more recent issue to the fore: stem-cell research. At the time he died, Reagan had been suffering for nearly a decade from Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative neurological disease that greatly depletes the brain cells that control memory. The relatively new scientific field of stem-cell research has been touted by scientists as a likely means by which to cure, or at least treat, Alzheimer's, as well as a panoply of other diseases and disorders.
Reagan's death, in the middle of an acrimonious national presidential election, brought to the fore of political debate the issue of whether, and to what extent, stem-cell research should be federally funded. The particular focus of that debate was whether the federal government should provide funding to researchers who use stem cells extracted from human embryos.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
A researcher at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Calif. injects human embryonic stem-cell cultures into test tubes, where the cells will divide and replicate for use in research.
It was only in 1998 that University of Wisconsin scientist XXXXX XXXXX successfully isolated and cultivated stem cells obtained from human embryos. Such stem cells are known as totipotent cells, meaning that they are undifferentiated cells that can be converted into nearly any type of cell in the body.
Since Thompson's discovery, scientists and advocates for disease research have produced a long and varied list of disorders and diseases that they believe could be cured or treated through stem-cell research, and particularly embryonic stem-cell research. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, strokes, breast cancer, arthritis, kidney disease, anemia, leukemia, deafness, burn, spinal cord injuries, limb amputations and neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis are just some of the diseases touted as candidates. However, to date, stem-cell research has not yet produced a cure for any disease.
Nonetheless, adamant stances on the use of embryonic stem cells are already being voiced in the corridors of the U.S. Capitol, as well as in the media, scientific laboratories and the pulpits of churches across the country. Because the process of culling embryonic stem cells involves the destruction of the embryo itself, the possibility of using the cells for scientific research has ignited a debate that reaches across moral, philosophical, political and cultural lines. [See 2005 The Controversy Behind Embryonic Stem Cells (sidebar)]
In 2001, President Bush (R) announced his administration's policy on stem cells. Bush stated that he would allow research on the already-existing embryonic stem-cell lines to continue to be federally funded, but would ban all federal funding for any other stem-cell research. Since his announcement, Congress has produced several legislative proposals to overturn Bush's limitation, but none has passed. And as part of the Republican Party's 2004 campaign platform, the Bush administration promised to retain the same embryonic stem-cell policy for the next four years. [See 2001 Update: Stem-Cell Research]
However, since Bush was reelected in 2004, several developments in the field of stem-cell research have caused both advocates and opponents to reassess current federal policy. After Bush restricted researchers to what he initially claimed were more than 70 existing lines of stem cells, it was discovered that most of those lines were useless. By May 2003, as few as 11 lines remained viable for research purposes. Then, in January 2005, scientists at the University of California at San Diego and the Salk Institute announced that all of the stem-cell lines then eligible for federal funding were contaminated with a foreign molecule from mice that may render them unfit for research purposes.
As a result, politicians at both the federal and state levels have responded to the perceived need to provide funding to scientists whose research would involve the creation of new, uncontaminated embryonic stem-cell lines. In June 2004, 58 senators signed an open letter to the president asking him to reconsider his stance on stem cells. Several states, led by a 2004 voter initiative in California, have acted to provide funding for such research, and in as many as 33 states legislation regarding the issue has been proposed. [See 2005 U.S. Senators Ask President Bush to Expand Federal Funding Policy for Stem-Cell Research (sidebar)]
Once the California voters approved a proposition to allow $3 billion in funding over 10 years to stem-cell scientists in California, the media reported a general fear by other states that scientists at academic and private research facilities would all flock to California. Since then, several states have taken affirmative action to fund stem-cell research; in other states, legislators have proposed various state funding possibilities.
Furthermore, since the January 2005 announcement of stem-cell contamination, several members of Congress, including members of the Republican Party, have proposed legislation that would either overturn Bush's policy or modify the policy to allow the federal government to support states' stem-cell research funding. And advocates and opponents of the federal government's funding of such research continue to voice their opinions in often rancorous debate.
Advocates claim that federal funding is necessary for such a vital and expensive field of research, and that using state funding would lead to less-efficient, non-uniform results among scientists in different states. They argue that federal funding of scientific research signals the importance of a particular research field, and that federal support can be either the life or death of that field, as private investors follow the government's lead.
Furthermore, advocates also claim that stem-cell research holds possibilities for curing millions of people, and that it is wrong to deny so many people hope for improved health and a longer life. And they argue that if the U.S. continues to shun the field of stem-cell research, other countries will still embrace it, and the U.S. will falter in its role as a leader in scientific advancement.Opponents of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, on the other hand, argue that destroying embryos, no matter how old they are or whether they were used with the consent of the donor, is tantamount to murder. They claim that once a sperm and an egg are combined into an embryo, the embryo is a viable being.In addition, opponents argue that embryonic stem-cell research has yet to produce any true advances, while adult stem-cell research and other such methods have already borne fruit. Accordingly, they argue that apart from its ethical complications, embryonic stem-cell research is unnecessary.
States Respond to Bush's Policy On Stem-Cell Research
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Buttons showing support for a 2004 California ballot initiative that would provide up to $3 billion in funding for stem-cell research are displayed.
In November 2004, just as the presidential election was ensuring the continuation of Bush's policy on stem-cell research, voters in California agreed to Proposition 71. That ballot initiative authorized the government to sell state bonds to raise $3 billion over the next 10 years for embryonic stem-cell research. As a result, California, led by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will now provide as much as 12 times more annual funding than the federal government.
California's initiative has left other states scrambling to respond to the "biotech race." California is already home to 29% of all U.S. biotechnology companies--which, along with university programs, conduct most of the stem-cell research. Without similar financial incentives, other states stand to lose key researchers, who may migrate to where the money, and thus the top research facilities, are located. As a result, in the months subsequent to California's vote, many states have taken action to prevent a "brain drain" and possible loss of biomedical job creation.
Rick Wetsel, a professor of molecular medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, conceded that the lure of more money elsewhere could be difficult to ignore. Although he expresses reluctance to leave Texas, he said that "If someone came to me and said, 'We'll give you three times your lab space to do stem-cell research and pay you more money to do it,' I would have to consider that offer." In New Jersey, acting Gov. Richard Codey (D) has proposed budgeting $380 million for stem-cell research, including the creation of a $150 million Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has expressed support for a bill that would allow researchers to experiment on human embryos created in fertility clinics, but would ban the use of embryos created solely for research. And Maryland state Sen. Paula Hollinger (D) has filed a bill seeking $25 million in annual spending on stem-cell research.
Furthermore, a bill was introduced in the Washington State legislature in support of state funding of embryonic stem-cell research. The bill follows that state's governor's announcement of a proposal for a $1 billion fund to support biomedical research, including stem-cell research. And in Texas, the home state of President Bush, Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) to reverse his stance banning state funding for stem-cell research. She said she feared that her state would be "left in the dust by California."Andrew Cohn, a spokesperson for the University of Wisconsin at Madison's Alumni Research Foundation, owner of the university's stem-cell patents, has seen a sharp rise in stem-cell research activity in academia. "Everyone's rushing to put together a stem-cell program," Cohn says. "People recognize that this field of study has incredible potential, not only to cure disease, but also as an economic tool."
Existing Federally Funded Stem Cells Contaminated
In January 2005, scientists at the University of California at San Diego announced that all of the embryonic stem cells that made up the federally approved lines were contaminated. The cells included a mouse-derived acid molecule, Neu5Gc, that the human immune system usually seeks out and destroys. And, not only does the human body usually destroy such cells, but it may also experience a severe reaction to the molecule. "It could be like receiving a bad blood transfusion," explains Dr. Ajit Varki, a specialist in cell biology at the University of California at San Diego. As a result of the contamination, all of federally funded embryonic stem-cell lines may be rendered virtually useless for human research.
Immersing stem cells in nutrient-rich biological baths significantly increases their ability to replicate. Typically, the "baths" are made of cells from mouse embryos. Those cells have an outer coating that includes acid compounds that human immune systems do not assimilate. Instead, the immune system attacks the acidic cells. As a result, the contaminated cells pose a threat to human recipients of cells and tissues derived from the federally funded embryonic stem-cell lines. "In their current form, therefore, if this problem isn't solved," explains Varki, "putting embryonic stem cells into humans in some form of treatment will probably result in some kind of immune reaction against the cells, in most humans."
David Silverman/Getty Images
The stem-cell colony depicted above holds thousands of individual stem cells, young cells that are not yet differentiated into specific body tissues. U.S. scientists recently discovered that the mouse cell culture used to incubate embryonic stem cells has contaminated all of the embryonic stem-cell lines currently eligible for federal funding.
The contaminated stem cells will continue to be useful in some areas of research, such as in laboratory animal studies. However, the discovery puts a big damper on an area of research that is already limited by the Bush administration's policy, and is likely to be a severe blow to the stem-cell industry. As Paul Sanberg, director of the Center for Aging and Brain Repair at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, notes, "This is going to slow things down in embryonic stem-cell research."Meanwhile, in February 2005, scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison announced that they had discovered a method to grow human embryonic stem cells without the mouse-derived cells usually used to develop such stem cells. While the existing federally funded stem cells are already contaminated by the mouse cells, that discovery would enable new stem-cell lines to be free of contamination, and thus viable for use in humans.
Congress Proposes Increased Funding for Stem Cells
In the wake of the contamination discovery, federal lawmakers have also stepped up efforts to introduce legislation to expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Several bipartisan bills have been introduced into Congress altering Bush's current ban.
In January 2005, Reps. Michael Castle (R, Del.) and Diana DeGette (D, Colo.) introduced legislation that would allow embryonic stem-cell research to be federally funded regardless of when the stem cells were created, but only if the embryos in question had been created for fertility treatment. Many women who have difficulty conceiving a child have several of their eggs extracted and artificially inseminated to form embryos. The embryos are frozen and then implanted in the womb one by one until an implanted embryo begins to develop into a fetus. Many of the embryos remain unused, and it is research using stem cells derived from those unused embryos that would be eligible for funding under the bill. The bill would also require that the women donating their embryos provide written consent for such use.
Castle states that because of the wide scope of stem cells' curative possibilities, it is imperative that the research receive adequate funding. "One hundred million Americans touched by a disease may one day be helped by embryonic stem-cell research," he says. "The current embryonic stem-cell research policy is simply not sufficient for the scientists that conduct the research they need to do to find cures and treatments."
Another bill, introduced by House Ways and Means health subcommittee chairwoman XXXXX XXXXX (R, Conn.), would provide $10 billion in bond grants to states to fund stem-cell research, including research on embryonic stem cells. In addition, her bill would allow the states to decide whether to fund embryonic stem-cell research, but would make receipt of the bonds contingent upon allowing such research.
Sponsors of both bills acknowledge the importance of current state initiatives but argue that a federal stem-cell research program is a vital means of creating nationwide scientific cooperation, as well as ensuring unified research standards. "t's urgent that something be done," Johnson states.
On the other hand, Rep. Dave Weldon (R, Fla.), who is also a physician, is sponsoring a bill that bans all forms of human cloning, including the use of embryonic stem cells. He argues that using adult stem cells is the best method for research into the treatment of diseases. "You cannot even show me a good animal model where embryonic stem cells are successful in treating an animal with a disease," Weldon says.
Increased Federal Stem-Cell Funding Advocated
Advocates of changing Bush's stem-cell research policy to allow for greater federal funding argue that such funding is vital both for furthering the research and for encouraging potential private investors. They claim that, while the isolation of the cells themselves was a huge scientific advance, actually realizing the enormous healing possibilities of stem-cell technology will require the level of funding that only the federal government can provide.
Federal funding is also important for establishing uniform guidelines regarding how such research should be conducted, including standards for stem-cell derivation, testing and oversight, they say. "The Bush policy is creating a wild west-era of science," DeGette claims. "In this new era, there is no coordinated sharing of information, no ethical or community standards and no federal controls on research. This is unacceptable."
Advocates also say that the federal government, by severely limiting embryonic stem-cell research, is threatening U.S. preeminence in scientific discovery in the world. If the U.S. does not promote stem-cell research and its vast possibilities, they say, other countries will. As Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, claims, discouraging stem-cell research "stigmatizes the research, creating a disincentive for American researchers to engage in this workour nation will cede its ability to not only lead the world in research, but also to set the ethical and regulatory standards about how this research should be conducted."
Still other advocates point out that many scientists have made their greatest discoveries by accident. By providing adequate federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, they argue, the government would be creating a framework for untold numbers of possible scientific discoveries. "The real lasting contribution of human embryonic stem-cell research may be increased knowledge of the human body," stated XXXXX XXXXX, former head of the Department of Health and Human Services, in his departing speech, "which could change human medicine even more dramatically than new transplantation therapies."
Barring embryonic stem-cell research may unwittingly halt scientific progress that could lead to life-saving and life-enhancing treatments, advocates argue. For instance, they note that scientists already have shown that it is possible to develop human embryonic cells into cells that produce insulin, which may help cure juvenile diabetes. They claim that science stands at the mere threshold of possible cures available through stem-cell research, and that curbing research efforts would eliminate discoveries that could benefit millions. And they point out that it is arguably just as immoral to stifle research with such vast healing possibilities as it is to use embryos that were no longer needed by their donors.
Additionally, advocates claim that not providing funding on a federal level, especially in light of the discovery that the existing stem-cell lines are contaminated, effectively bans scientists in the U.S. from aggressively pursuing embryonic stem-cell research. Federal funding, they argue, is imperative for stem-cell and other research, where substantial funding is necessary but difficult to obtain in the early stages from private investors. Withholding federal funding, they argue, is basically telling the U.S. public that it is better not to know what such science may lead to. They point out that scientists already have shown they can potentially cure juvenile diabetes. The possibilities for other cures, they argue, are limitless, given adequate funding for research.
Critics Oppose Increased Stem-Cell Funding
Critics of proposals to extend federal funding to research using embryonic stem-cell lines not currently eligible for such funding under the Bush administration's policy generally take one of two stances. The first stance holds that the President's policy limiting research to stem-cell lines existing before Aug. 9, 2001, should be upheld. Other critics believe that Bush's policy is immoral, and that not only should federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research be curtailed, but that the research should be banned altogether. Both of these arguments rely largely on moral considerations, though some in the scientific community have also weighed in against funding for the research.
Bush believes that the stem-cell issue is "one of the most profound of our time." He has explained that he approved research on the existing lines because of the research's immense possibilities for curing diseases and disorders. However, he limited research to those existing lines because too many moral questions remained to be explored. "As I thought through this issue I kept returning to two fundamental questions," Bush stated in an address to the nation. "First, are these frozen embryos human life and therefore something precious to be protected? And second, if they're going to be destroyed anyway, shouldn't they be used for a greater good, for research that has the potential to save and improve other lives?"
Opponents of all embryonic stem-cell research rely most strongly on the argument that the human embryo, no matter what stage of development it is in, is a human life. They argue, further, that human life is sacred, and that the government should not be allowed to differentiate between different stages of human life in deciding how a life should be treated. [See 1999 Abortion: When Does Human Life Begin?]
And still others take an absolutist approach, claiming that any use of any embryo, regardless of its stage of growth, is not just ethically unsound, but is equivalent to murder. Therefore, they argue, even Bush's policy of allowing the embryonic stem-cell lines created before a certain date to be used for research is wrong. "The fact that the destruction took place in the past does not lessen the dastardly nature of the deed," writes Bert Thompson, executive director of Apologetics Press, "nor does it justify the use of the cells merely because the humans that provided them are not being killed now."
Critics differ, however, in their attitudes toward embryonic stem cells and stem cells harvested from adult tissue. Because the latter does not result in the destruction of human life, critics of embryonic stem-cell research have a much easier time supporting it.
Sen. XXXXX XXXXXback (R, Kan.) sat on the Senate Appropriations Committee for a hearing on embryonic stem-cell research. He noted that no one doubted that an embryo is a living organism, but acknowledged the debate that exists as to whether the embryo has independent life. "We all on this panel, I believe, all in this room agree that this embryo is alive," Brownback noted. "The central question remains, is it a life? Or is it a mere piece of property to be disposed of as its master chooses?"
Although Brownback answered his questions by sponsoring a bill that would ban all forms of cloning, which would include a ban on embryonic stem-cell research, he also recognized the difficulty of the debate. "Are we on the brink of being able to solve such terrible diseases as Parkinson's, ALS, diabetes, juvenile diabetes, cancer? I think we are," Brownback said. "And I think there's a right route that we can go with this, and I think it's the adult stem-cell route that does not have the ethical and moral questions that we have surrounding the embryonic that is also showing a great deal of promise."
Some opponents take an even stronger view and argue that the use of embryos to create stem cells for research is tantamount to torture. Dr. Elaine Shay, an ophthalmologist and resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital, wrote in an editorial in the Hartford Courant:
I do not doubt that proponents of embryonic stem cell research are well-intentioned. But history shows what happens when we lose respect for human dignity: Nazi doctors experimented on Jewish prisoners. In the Willowbrook State School study of the 1950s, mentally retarded children were infected with hepatitis to study the effect of gamma globulin injections. In the Tuskegee study from 1932 to 1972, physicians observed the progress of untreated syphilis in 399 African American men despite the availability of penicillin. In encouraging research on human embryos, we would be making mistakes again.
In addition to arguing that other stem-cell research methods are better options from a political and moral standpoint, some critics of expanding federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research claim that, scientifically, funding the embryonic method makes little sense. They note that embryonic stem-cell research has not yet produced a single therapeutic success, and point to numerous possible technical problems. Those include the fact that the embryonic stem cells have been difficult to convert into normal specialized cells, and have resulted in tumors in animal tests, as well as the strong potential for rejection by the bodies of patients treated with such cells.
Future Federal Funding for Stem-Cell Research Unclear
In 1967, in a seminal book titled The Case Against Genetic Engineering, The Recombinant DNA Debate, evolutionist and Nobel laureate George Wald predicted the ethical debate that would be ushered in by the scientific advances of biotechnology. He wrote:
DNA technology faces our society with problems unprecedented not only in the history of science, but of life on the Earth. It places in human hands the capacity to redesign living organisms. It is all too big and is happening too fast. So this, the central problem, remains almost unconsidered. It presents probably the largest ethical problem that science has ever had to face. Our morality up to now has been to go ahead without restriction to learn all that we can about nature. Restructuring nature was not part of the bargain. For going ahead in this direction may be not only unwise, but dangerous.
The embryonic stem-cell debate is a prime example of the battlegrounds that Wald was describing. It pits anti-abortionists against scientists, conservatives against liberals, advocates for disease research against some doctors. It is an epic battle, and not one that is likely to be resolved any time soon.
However, the issue of whether federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research should be expanded may soon be up for a vote in Congress. With proposals in both houses to increase funding, on the one hand, and to ban funding altogether on the other hand, legislation may soon usurp Bush's current policy.
Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of Science magazine, has acknowledged the fears of those opposing embryonic stem-cell research. "Although many understand the potential benefits of [stem-cell] research, they also are troubled about scientists working so close to what they see as the essence and origins of human life." Yet he also notes the important role that scientists must take in forging new discoveries. "Bringing the power of scientific inquiry to bear on society's most difficult questions is what we have done best, XXXXX XXXXX often means telling the world things that it might not initially like," he writes.
While scientists have in the past often responded to public concerns by ignoring them, the political and ethical volatility of the embryonic stem-cell debate may well force researchers to compromise on the unfettered use of embryonic stem cells. As Leshner notes, "Simply protesting the incursion of value considerations into the conduct and use of science confirms the old adage that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Let's try some diplomacy and discussion and see how that goes for a change."
Discussion Questions & Activities
1) Why is the use of stem cells taken from embryos so much more controversial than the use of adult stem cells?
2) Do you think that it is moral or immoral for researchers to use embryonic stem cells?
3) After comparing the arguments for and against stem-cell use, do you think that President Bush should allow research using new lines of embryonic stem-cells to receive federal funding?
4) Should the federal government or individual state governments provide most of the funding for stem-cell research?
5) Which impulse do you think will win out in the end: the moral objections to using embryonic stem cells, or the possible discovery of a variety of cures from stem-cell research?
Belluck, Pam. "Massachusetts Governor Opposes Stem Cell Work: One of Two Harvesting Methods is Criticized." New York Times, February 10, 2005, A14.
Coghlan, Andy. "Approved Stem Cell Lines Contaminated." New Scientist, January 29, 2005, 9.
Ertelt, Steven. "Congressional Bill Would Spend Billions on Embryonic Stem Cell Research." Life News, February 15, 2005, www.lifenews.com.
Fumento, Michael. "The Adult Answer." National Review, December. 20, 2004, www.nationalreview.com.
Jones, Roland. "After California, More States Eye Stem Cell Research." MSNBC.com, February 9, 2005, msnbc.msn.com.
Kalb, Claudia. "Welcome to the Stem-Cell States." Newsweek, February 16, 2005, www.newsweek.com.
Kaplan, Karen. "Study Says All Stem Cell Lines Tainted." Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2005, www.latimes.com
Mansnerus, Laura. "New Jersey Faces Tough Competition for Stem Cell Scientists." New York Times, January 17, 2005, B1.
Rayburn, Kelly. "States Grapple With Stem-Cell Research." Wall Street Journal, December 24, 2004, A4.
Shay, Elaine. "An Embryo is a Human Being." Hartford Courant, February 6, 2005, www.courant.com.
Thompson, Bert, and Brad Harrub. "Human Cloning and Stem-Cell Research: Science's 'Slippery Slope' [Pt. III]." Reason & Revelation, October 2004, 73.
Wald, George. The Case Against Genetic Engineering, The Recombinant DNA Debate. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979.
Additional information about stem-cell research can be found in the following sources:
National Institutes of Health. Stem Cells: Scientific Progress And Future Research Directions. University Press of the Pacific, 2004
Panno, Joseph. Stem Cell Research: Medical Applications and Ethical Controversy. New York: Facts On File, 2004.
Information on how to contact organizations that are either mentioned in the discussion of stem-cell research or can provide additional information on the subject is listed below:
National Institutes of Health
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Md. 20892
Telephone: (XXX) XXX-XXXX
American Association for the Advancement of Science
1200 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005
Telephone: (XXX) XXX-XXXX
American Enterprise Institute
Washington, D.C. 20036
Telephone: (XXX) XXX-XXXX
Key Words and Points
For further information about the ongoing debate over stem-cell research, search for the following words and terms in electronic databases and other publications:
Embryonic stem cell
Stem-Cell Research Update (December 2007)
Since ICOF last covered stem-cell research in March 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush twice vetoed legislation that would provide federal funding for new embryonic stem-cell research. Meanwhile, scientific advancement in the field went on and governors of several U.S. states authorized funding for stem-cell research. Among the key events:
- While politicians debated the ethics of stem-cell research, scientists continued to make progress in understanding the subject. The September 3, 2005 issue of the British journal the Lancet contained a report saying that doctors in Lausanne, Switzerland, had developed a highly effective burn treatment from stem cells harvested from a single aborted fetus. The researchers said they had used fetal stem cells to create sheets of "biological Band-Aid." A team of scientists reported in the April 11, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that 14 Brazilians suffering from Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes who had been treated with stem cells had not required insulin injections for at least several months after their treatment, and in some cases even years. Other investigators studied ways to develop an alternative to the current, controversial method of harvesting stem cells, which required the destruction of human embryos. On October 16, 2005 scientists at Advanced Cell Technology Inc. in Worcester, Massachusetts, reported that they had harvested embryonic stem cells from a fertilized mouse egg without apparently harming the nascent embryo. And on January 7, 2007, scientists reported that stem cells could be derived from cells found in the amniotic fluid surrounding a fetus in the womb. They had grown the amniotic fluid-derived stem (AFS) cells into various muscle, bone, fat and organ cells. Although the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush continued to oppose federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research, various states backed the new technology. On October 18, 2005. New Jersey acting Governor Richard Codey announced the creation of a statewide public bank to store donated placental and umbilical blood, which would be available both for stem-cell research and as a substitute for bone-marrow transplants, and on the following December 16 the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology awarded $5 million in grants for stem-cell research. New Jersey thus became the third state, after California and Connecticut to provide funds for stem-cell research. On April 6, 2006, Maryland became the fourth, as Governor Robert Ehrlich Jr. signed legislation authorizing the allocation of up to $15 million in state funds for stem-cell research, and Illinois became the fifth on July 20, 2006 when Governor Rod Blagojevich said $5 million in state funds would be redirected towards stem-cell research. Meanwhile, on October 19, 2005, South Korean and U.S. researchers launched a World Stem Cell Foundation, a global initiative involving the two countries and Britain that sought to harness international cooperation to advance stem-cell research. And on June 6, 2006, Harvard University began a multimillion-dollar program, paid for entirely through public funds, designed to clone human embryos to create stem cells. [See 2005 Facts On File: Medical Research--Stem Cells Created Nondestructively, Genetics--News in Brief; 2006 Medicine and Health--Maryland Authorizes Stem Cell Funds, Medical Developments--Harvard Launches Stem Cell Program, Medicine and Health--State Governors Fund Stem Cell Research; 2007 Medicine and Health--News in Brief, Medical Research--Stem Cells Used to Treat Diabetes]
- On July 19, 2006, U.S. President George W. Bush vetoed legislation that would have ended federal funding constraints on human embryonic stem-cell research. It was the first veto of his administration. The House quickly attempted to override the veto but fell 51 votes short of the two-thirds majority required. Bush said the measure would have crossed a "moral boundary" and "would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others." The House had passed the bill in May 2005 and the Senate had given its endorsement on the day before Bush's veto. When the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress after the elections of November 2006, they launched a second attempt to pass stem-cell research legislation. On January 11, 2007 the House voted to augment federal funding of stem-cell research, the Senate followed suit on April 1, and the House passed a final version of the bill on June 7. On June 20, Bush again vetoed the measure, although he also signed an executive order encouraging scientists to pursue forms of stem-cell research that did not require the destruction of embryos. His order, however, did not provide any additional funding. [See 2005 Facts On File: House Votes to Broaden Funds For Stem-Cell Research, Medicine and Health--Frist Backs Expanded Stem Cell Funds; 2006 Bush Vetoes Stem Cell Measure; 2007 Democrats' '100 Hour' Agenda--House Approves Stem Cell Research, Legislation--Senate Clears Stem Cell Funding Bill, Legislation--House Again Clears Stem Cell Research Bill, Legislation--Bush Again Vetoes Stem Cell Bill]
- On November 14, 2007, a team of researchers reported on the Web site of the journal Nature that it had successfully extracted monkey stem cells from cloned monkey embryos. It was the first time that stem cell creation technique had been successful in an animal other than a mouse. On November 20, two separate teams of scientists reported that they had successfully created human stem cells from human skin cells, a technique that would allow scientists to avoid the controversial practice of creating stem cells from human embryos. One team, led by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, published its research on the Web site of the journal Science. The other, led by Shinya Yamanaka of Tokyo University, published its work on the site of the journal Cell. [See 2007 Facts On File: Human Stem Cells Created From Skin Cells]
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