Stem Cells 101

Published: March 31, 2007
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What it is (and isn’t), why it’s promising, and who can benefit.

Embryonic Stem Cells Hold Tremendous Promise

The suffering of millions could end

  • These cells could be the ‘missing link’ needed to cure some of the world’s most deadly diseases.
  • Scientists already have shown they can direct the development of human embryonic cells into insulin-producing cells that might help cure juvenile diabetes.
  • Up to 100 million Americans may benefit from this research.
  • Embryonic stem cells offer more promise than adult stem cells.
  • Most scientists believe and studies show that embryonic stem cells will likely be more effective in curing diseases because they can grow and differentiate into any of the body’s cells and tissues and thus into different organs.
  • Excess Fertilized Eggs Are Available For Research

A majority of couples want to help save lives

  • Stem cells come from excess fertilized eggs stored in freezers at in vitro fertility (IVF) clinics.
  • There are tens of thousands of these fertilized eggs available for research.
  • Nearly half of infertile couples say they would like to see some good come from their excess eggs.*
  • Federal Funding of the Research Protects the Public Interest

Private funding means research without federal oversight

  • Without federal funding, the nation’s top academic researchers at universities, medical schools and teaching hospitals cannot join in the search for cures, which means much slower progress.
  • Tax dollars keep the “public” in public interest. This research should not be confined to the for-profit, commercial sector.
  • The government should be providing oversight of the work and ensuring that the research complies with ethical guidelines.

The majority of Americans (regardless of religious affiliation) support embryonic stem cell research

  • The American people want embryonic stem cell research to move forward.
  • Members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle support the research.
  • Independent opinion surveys over the last three years consistently show strong public support for embryonic stem cell research (USA Today, Gallup, Pew Research Center, ABC News, CAMR**, and others).
  • There is surprisingly strong backing among fundamentalist Christians, Catholics and abortion opponents***.
  • Hundreds of newspapers throughout the country have editorialized in favor of the research.

The Current Policy on Stem Cell Research:

President Bush’s Policy As Announced in 2001:

  • Allows federal money to be used only for research on stem cells that had been collected from embryos prior to the date of his speech. That represented more than 60 stem cell lines.
  • Research on stem cells derived from embryos destroyed after Aug. 9, 2001, would not be eligible for federal funding.

What it Means Today:

  • Only 22 lines are actually available to scientists for use, less than one-third the original number assumed from the policy.
  • Researchers note that all of the 22 available lines are contaminated with mouse feeder cells, and therefore could be problematic for human treatments.

What the Castle-Degette Bill (Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, HR 810) Does:

  • Allows for excess embryos that have been harvested for use in InVitro Fertilization to be used for stem cell research.
  • Sets stringent ethical guidelines around embryos to be donated: fertility patients must consent in writing to donation of their embryos and state that they would have been discarded if they hadn’t been donated for research.
  • Makes possible potentially dozens of new stem cell lines that can be used to develop treatments for people.
  • Find out more here.

Who’s for Expanded Stem Cell Research:

  • A coalition of over 140 patient groups, including the Christopher Reeve Foundation, Alzheimer’s Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Parkinson’s Action Network, and Prostate Cancer Foundation
  • Overwhelming majority of scientific and research community.
  • 238 members of the U.S House of Representatives
  • 72% of the American public agrees that with written permission and in the case of embryos that would otherwise be destroyed, stem cell research should be allowed.
  • Open-minded pro-life members of Congress

Who’s Against Expanded Stem Cell Research:

  • Ideological pro-life organizations.
  • President Bush

State Legislative Initiatives

State governments are promoting safe-havens for stem cell and SCNT research

  • CRF supports state efforts to create safe-havens for critical medical research such as stem cells and SCNT, but it is no substitute for a supportive federal policy.
  • State legislation that is pro-stem cell and therapeutic cloning research helps attract top scientists/researchers to pursue this field of study and increases research activity.
  • Increased research activity helps bring us closer to scientific advances which could lead to cures.
  • State legislation which requires IVF clinics to inform patients of their option to donate excess fertilized eggs for research helps increase the supply of material available for research. This in turn helps increase the genetic diversity of new stem cell lines which could be developed.
  • State governments that pass anti-stem cell and SCNT legislation, such as Iowa, force researchers to flee to states like New Jersey and California, which provide more positive environments.
  • Broadly-worded state bans on all human cloning will only stop important research and possible cures.
  • Public Opinion Strongly Favors Embryonic Stem Cell Research

*Survey conducted by the American Infertility Association, June 2001.
** CAMR polls conducted in May 2001, April, 2002, and March 2003.
*** CAMR poll conducted in May 2001.