Stem cell controversy

Last updated

The stem cell controversy is the consideration of the ethics of research involving the development, use, and destruction of human embryos. Most commonly, this controversy focuses on embryonic stem cells. Not all stem cell research involves human embryos. For example, adult stem cells, amniotic stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells do not involve creating, using, or destroying human embryos, and thus are minimally, if at all, controversial. Many less controversial sources of acquiring stem cells include using cells from the umbilical cord, breast milk, and bone marrow, which are not pluripotent.

Ethics branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.

Embryonic stem cell pluripotent stem cells derived from the inner cell mass of blastocysts

Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent stem cells derived from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, an early-stage pre-implantation embryo. Human embryos reach the blastocyst stage 4–5 days post fertilization, at which time they consist of 50–150 cells. Isolating the embryoblast, or inner cell mass (ICM) results in destruction of the blastocyst, a process which raises ethical issues, including whether or not embryos at the pre-implantation stage should have the same moral considerations as embryos in the post-implantation stage of development. Researchers are currently focusing heavily on the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells, with clinical use being the goal for many labs. Potential uses include the treatment of diabetes and heart disease. The cells are being studied to be used as clinical therapies, models of genetic disorders, and cellular/DNA repair. However, adverse effects in the research and clinical processes such as tumours and unwanted immune responses have also been reported.

Stem cell undifferentiated biological cells that can differentiate into specialized cells

Stem cells are cells that can differentiate into other types of cells, and can also divide in self-renewal to produce more of the same type of stem cells.



For many decades, stem cells have played an important role in medical research, beginning in 1868 when Ernst Haeckel first used the phrase to describe the fertilized egg which eventually gestates into an organism. The term was later used in 1886 by William Sedgwick to describe the parts of a plant that grow and regenerate. Further work by Alexander Maximow and Leroy Stevens introduced the concept that stem cells are pluripotent. This significant discovery led to the first human bone marrow transplant by E. Donnal Thomas in 1956, which although successful in saving lives, has generated much controversy since. This has included the many complications inherent in stem cell transplantation (almost 200 allogeneic marrow transplants were performed in humans, with no long-term successes before the first successful treatment was made), through to more modern problems, such as how many cells are sufficient for engraftment of various types of hematopoietic stem cell transplants, whether older patients should undergo transplant therapy, and the role of irradiation-based therapies in preparation for transplantation.

Ernst Haeckel German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, and artist

Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel was a German zoologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor, marine biologist, and artist who discovered, described and named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all life forms, and coined many terms in biology, including anthropogeny, ecology, phylum, phylogeny, and Protista. Haeckel promoted and popularised Charles Darwin's work in Germany and developed the influential but no longer widely held recapitulation theory claiming that an individual organism's biological development, or ontogeny, parallels and summarises its species' evolutionary development, or phylogeny.

William Thompson Sedgwick American microbiologist

William Thompson Sedgwick was a teacher, epidemiologist, bacteriologist, and a key figure in shaping public health in the United States. He was president of many scientific and professional organizations during his lifetime including president of the American Public Health Association in 1915. He was one of three founders of the joint MIT-Harvard School of Public Health in 1913.

The discovery of adult stem cells led scientists to develop an interest in the role of embryonic stem cells, and in separate studies in 1981 Gail Martin and Martin Evans derived pluripotent stem cells from the embryos of mice for the first time. This paved the way for Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans, and Oliver Smithies to create the first knockout mouse, ushering in a whole new era of research on human disease. In 1995 adult stem cell research with human use, patented (US PTO with effect from 1995). In fact human use published in World J Surg 1991 & 1999 (B G Matapurkar). Salhan, Sudha (August 2011). Textbook of Gynecology. JP Medical Ltd. pp. 625–. ISBN   978-93-5025-369-4. Bharadwaj, Aditya; Glasner, Peter E. (2009). Local Cells, Global Science: The Rise of Embryonic Stem Cell Research in India. Taylor & Francis. ISBN   978-0-415-39609-7 ^ "Dr.B.G.Matapurkar gets US patent for surgical procedure for organ regeneration - Patents". ^ "Method of organogenesis and tissue regeneration/repair using surgical techniques - US Patent 6227202 Claims".

Gail R. Martin American biologist

Gail Roberta Martin is a professor emerita in the Department of Anatomy, University of California, San Francisco. She is known for her pioneering work on the isolation of pluripotent stem cells from normal embryos, for which she coined the term ‘embryonic stem cells’. She is also widely recognized for her work on the function of Fibroblast Growth Factors (FGFs) and their negative regulators in vertebrate organogenesis. She and her colleagues also made valuable contributions to gene targeting technology.

Martin Evans Developmental biologist, winner of Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2007

Sir Martin John Evans is a British biologist who, with Matthew Kaufman, was the first to culture mice embryonic stem cells and cultivate them in a laboratory in 1981. He is also known, along with Mario Capecchi and Oliver Smithies, for his work in the development of the knockout mouse and the related technology of gene targeting, a method of using embryonic stem cells to create specific gene modifications in mice. In 2007, the three shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of their discovery and contribution to the efforts to develop new treatments for illnesses in humans.

Mario Capecchi molecular geneticist and Nobel laureate

Mario Ramberg Capecchi is an Italian-born American molecular geneticist and a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering a method to create mice in which a specific gene is turned off, known as knockout mice. He shared the prize with Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics and Biology at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

In 1998, James Thomson and Jeffrey Jones derived the first human embryonic stem cells, with even greater potential for drug discovery and therapeutic transplantation. However, the use of the technique on human embryos led to more widespread controversy as criticism of the technique now began from the wider non-scientific public who debated the moral ethics of questions concerning research involving human embryonic cells.7

James Thomson (cell biologist) American biologist

James Alexander Thomson is an American developmental biologist best known for deriving the first human embryonic stem cell line in 1998 and for deriving human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) in 2007.

Potential use in therapy

Since pluripotent stem cells have the ability to differentiate into any type of cell, they are used in the development of medical treatments for a wide range of conditions [1] . Treatments that have been proposed include treatment for physical trauma, degenerative conditions, and genetic diseases (in combination with gene therapy). Yet further treatments using stem cells could potentially be developed due to their ability to repair extensive tissue damage. [2]

Gene therapy therapeutic approach that involves inserting nucleic acids into the patients cells

In the medicine field gene therapy is the therapeutic delivery of nucleic acid into a patient's cells as a drug to treat disease. The first attempt at modifying human DNA was performed in 1980 by Martin Cline, but the first successful nuclear gene transfer in humans, approved by the National Institutes of Health, was performed in May 1989. The first therapeutic use of gene transfer as well as the first direct insertion of human DNA into the nuclear genome was performed by French Anderson in a trial starting in September 1990.

Great levels of success and potential have been realized from research using adult stem cells. In early 2009, the FDA approved the first human clinical trials using embryonic stem cells. Only cells from an embryo at the morula stage or earlier are truly totipotent, meaning that they are able to form all cell types including placental cells. Adult stem cells are generally limited to differentiating into different cell types of their tissue of origin. However, some evidence suggests that adult stem cell plasticity may exist, increasing the number of cell types a given adult stem cell can become.

Morula embryo at an early stage

A morula is an early-stage embryo consisting of 16 cells in a solid ball contained within the zona pellucida.

Points of controversy

Many of the debates surrounding human embryonic stem cells concern issues such as what restrictions should be made on studies using these types of cells. At what point does one consider life to begin? Is it just to destroy an embryo cell if it has the potential to cure countless numbers of patients? Political leaders are debating how to regulate and fund research studies that involve the techniques used to remove the embryo cells. No clear consensus has emerged. Other recent discoveries may extinguish the need for embryonic stem cells. [3]

Much of the criticism has been a result of religious beliefs, and in the most high-profile case, US President George W Bush signed an executive order banning the use of federal funding for any cell lines other than those already in existence, stating at the time, "My position on these issues is shaped by deeply held beliefs," and "I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our creator." [4] This ban was in part revoked by his successor Barack Obama, who stated "As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly." [5]

Potential solutions

Some stem cell researchers are working to develop techniques of isolating stem cells that are as potent as embryonic stem cells, but do not require a human embryo.

Foremost among these was the discovery in August 2006 that adult cells can be reprogrammed into a pluripotent state by the introduction of four specific transcription factors, resulting in induced pluripotent stem cells. [6] This major breakthrough won a Nobel Prize for the discoverers, Shinya Yamanaka and John Gurdon. [7]

In an alternative technique, researchers at Harvard University, led by Kevin Eggan and Savitri Marajh, have transferred the nucleus of a somatic cell into an existing embryonic stem cell, thus creating a new stem cell line. [8]

Researchers at Advanced Cell Technology, led by Robert Lanza and Travis Wahl, reported the successful derivation of a stem cell line using a process similar to preimplantation genetic diagnosis, in which a single blastomere is extracted from a blastocyst. [9] At the 2007 meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), [10] Lanza announced that his team had succeeded in producing three new stem cell lines without destroying the parent embryos. "These are the first human embryonic cell lines in existence that didn't result from the destruction of an embryo." Lanza is currently in discussions with the National Institutes of Health to determine whether the new technique sidesteps U.S. restrictions on federal funding for ES cell research. [11]

Anthony Atala of Wake Forest University says that the fluid surrounding the fetus has been found to contain stem cells that, when used correctly, "can be differentiated towards cell types such as fat, bone, muscle, blood vessel, nerve and liver cells". The extraction of this fluid is not thought to harm the fetus in any way. He hopes "that these cells will provide a valuable resource for tissue repair and for engineered organs, as well". [12]


Stem cell debates have motivated and reinvigorated the pro-life movement, whose members are concerned with the rights and status of the embryo as an early-aged human life. They believe that embryonic stem cell research profits from and violates the sanctity of life and is tantamount to murder. [13] The fundamental assertion of those who oppose embryonic stem cell research is the belief that human life is inviolable, combined with the belief that human life begins when a sperm cell fertilizes an egg cell to form a single cell. The view of those in favor is that these embryos would otherwise be discarded, and if used as stem cells, they can survive as a part of a living human being.

A portion of stem cell researchers use embryos that were created but not used in in vitro fertility treatments to derive new stem cell lines. Most of these embryos are to be destroyed, or stored for long periods of time, long past their viable storage life. In the United States alone, an estimated at least 400,000 such embryos exist. [14] This has led some opponents of abortion, such as Senator Orrin Hatch, to support human embryonic stem cell research. [15] See also embryo donation.

Medical researchers widely report that stem cell research has the potential to dramatically alter approaches to understanding and treating diseases, and to alleviate suffering. In the future, most medical researchers anticipate being able to use technologies derived from stem cell research to treat a variety of diseases and impairments. Spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's disease are two examples that have been championed by high-profile media personalities (for instance, Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox, who have lived with these conditions, respectively). The anticipated medical benefits of stem cell research add urgency to the debates, which has been appealed to by proponents of embryonic stem cell research.

In August 2000, The U.S. National Institutes of Health's Guidelines stated:

...research involving human pluripotent stem cells...promises new treatments and possible cures for many debilitating diseases and injuries, including Parkinson's disease, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, burns and spinal cord injuries. The NIH believes the potential medical benefits of human pluripotent stem cell technology are compelling and worthy of pursuit in accordance with appropriate ethical standards. [16]

In 2006, researchers at Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Massachusetts, succeeded in obtaining stem cells from mouse embryos without destroying the embryos. [17] If this technique and its reliability are improved, it would alleviate some of the ethical concerns related to embryonic stem cell research.

Another technique announced in 2007 may also defuse the longstanding debate and controversy. Research teams in the United States and Japan have developed a simple and cost-effective method of reprogramming human skin cells to function much like embryonic stem cells by introducing artificial viruses. While extracting and cloning stem cells is complex and extremely expensive, the newly discovered method of reprogramming cells is much cheaper. However, the technique may disrupt the DNA in the new stem cells, resulting in damaged and cancerous tissue. More research will be required before noncancerous stem cells can be created. [18] [19] [20] [21]

Update article to include 2009/2010 current stem cell usages in clinical trials. [22] [23] The planned treatment trials will focus on the effects of oral lithium on neurological function in people with chronic spinal cord injury and those who have received umbilical cord blood mononuclear cell transplants to the spinal cord. The interest in these two treatments derives from recent reports indicating that umbilical cord blood stem cells may be beneficial for spinal cord injury and that lithium may promote regeneration and recovery of function after spinal cord injury. Both lithium and umbilical cord blood are widely available therapies that have long been used to treat diseases in humans.


Human potential and humanity

This argument often goes hand-in-hand with the utilitarian argument, and can be presented in several forms:

  • Embryos are not equivalent to human life while they are still incapable of surviving outside the womb (i.e. they only have the potential for life).
  • More than a third of zygotes do not implant after conception. [25] [26] Thus, far more embryos are lost due to chance than are proposed to be used for embryonic stem cell research or treatments.
  • Blastocysts are a cluster of human cells that have not differentiated into distinct organ tissue, making cells of the inner cell mass no more "human" than a skin cell. [24]
  • Some parties contend that embryos are not humans, believing that the life of Homo sapiens only begins when the heartbeat develops, which is during the fifth week of pregnancy, [27] or when the brain begins developing activity, which has been detected at 54 days after conception. [28]


  • In vitro fertilization (IVF) generates large numbers of unused embryos (e.g. 70,000 in Australia alone). [24] Many of these thousands of IVF embryos are slated for destruction. Using them for scientific research uses a resource that would otherwise be wasted. [24]
  • While the destruction of human embryos is required to establish a stem cell line, no new embryos have to be destroyed to work with existing stem cell lines. It would be wasteful not to continue to make use of these cell lines as a resource. [24]


This is usually presented as a counter-argument to using adult stem cells as an alternative that does not involve embryonic destruction.

  • Embryonic stem cells make up a significant proportion of a developing embryo, while adult stem cells exist as minor populations within a mature individual (e.g. in every 1,000 cells of the bone marrow, only one will be a usable stem cell). Thus, embryonic stem cells are likely to be easier to isolate and grow ex vivo than adult stem cells. [24]
  • Embryonic stem cells divide more rapidly than adult stem cells, potentially making it easier to generate large numbers of cells for therapeutic means. In contrast, adult stem cell might not divide fast enough to offer immediate treatment. [24]
  • Embryonic stem cells have greater plasticity, potentially allowing them to treat a wider range of diseases. [24]
  • Adult stem cells from the patient's own body might not be effective in treatment of genetic disorders. Allogeneic embryonic stem cell transplantation (i.e. from a healthy donor) may be more practical in these cases than gene therapy of a patient's own cell. [24]
  • DNA abnormalities found in adult stem cells that are caused by toxins and sunlight may make them poorly suited for treatment. [24]
  • Embryonic stem cells have been shown to be effective in treating heart damage in mice. [24]
  • Embryonic stem cells have the potential to cure chronic and degenerative diseases which current medicine has been unable to effectively treat.


  • Before the primitive streak is formed when the embryo attaches to the uterus around 14 days after fertilization, two fertilized eggs can combine by fusing together and develop into one person (a tetragametic chimera). Since a fertilized egg has the potential to be two individuals or half of one, some believe it can only be considered a 'potential' person, not an actual one. Those who subscribe to this belief then hold that destroying a blastocyst for embryonic stem cells is ethical. [29]


  • Viability is another standard under which embryos and fetuses have been regarded as human lives. In the United States, the 1973 Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade concluded that viability determined the permissibility of abortions performed for reasons other than the protection of the woman's health, defining viability as the point at which a fetus is "potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid." [30] The point of viability was 24 to 28 weeks when the case was decided and has since moved to about 22 weeks due to advancement in medical technology. Embryos used in medical research for stem cells are well below development that would enable viability.



This argument is used by opponents of embryonic destruction, as well as researchers specializing in adult stem cell research.

Pro-life supporters often claim that the use of adult stem cells from sources such as the umbilical cord blood has consistently produced more promising results than the use of embryonic stem cells. [31] Furthermore, adult stem cell research may be able to make greater advances if less money and resources were channeled into embryonic stem cell research. [32] Stem cell research is highly frowned upon in many ethnic and religious groups[ citation needed ].

In the past, it has been a necessity to research embryonic stem cells and in doing so destroy them for research to progress. [33] As a result of the research done with both embryonic and adult stem cells, new techniques may make the necessity for embryonic cell research obsolete. Because many of the restrictions placed on stem cell research have been based on moral dilemmas surrounding the use of embryonic cells, there will likely be rapid advancement in the field as the techniques that created those issues are becoming less of a necessity. [34] Many funding and research restrictions on embryonic cell research will not impact research on IPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells) allowing for a promising portion of the field of research to continue relatively unhindered by the ethical issues of embryonic research. [35]

Adult stem cells have provided many different therapies for illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, lupus, sickle-cell anemia, and heart damage [36] (to date, embryonic stem cells have also been used in treatment), [37] Moreover, there have been many advances in adult stem cell research, including a recent study where pluripotent adult stem cells were manufactured from differentiated fibroblast by the addition of specific transcription factors. [38] Newly created stem cells were developed into an embryo and were integrated into newborn mouse tissues, analogous to the properties of embryonic stem cells.

Stated views of groups

Government policy stances


Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal and Ireland do not allow the production of embryonic stem cell lines, [39] but the creation of embryonic stem cell lines is permitted in Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. [39]

United States


In 1973, Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States. Five years later, the first successful human in vitro fertilization resulted in the birth of Louise Brown in England. These developments prompted the federal government to create regulations barring the use of federal funds for research that experimented on human embryos. In 1995, the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel advised the administration of President Bill Clinton to permit federal funding for research on embryos left over from in vitro fertility treatments and also recommended federal funding of research on embryos specifically created for experimentation. In response to the panel's recommendations, the Clinton administration, citing moral and ethical concerns, declined to fund research on embryos created solely for research purposes, [40] but did agree to fund research on leftover embryos created by in vitro fertility treatments. At this point, the Congress intervened and passed the 1995 Dickey–Wicker Amendment (the final bill, which included the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, was signed into law by Bill Clinton) which prohibited any federal funding for the Department of Health and Human Services be used for research that resulted in the destruction of an embryo regardless of the source of that embryo.

In 1998, privately funded research led to the breakthrough discovery of human embryonic stem cells (hESC). [41] This prompted the Clinton administration to re-examine guidelines for federal funding of embryonic research. In 1999, the president's National Bioethics Advisory Commission recommended that hESC harvested from embryos discarded after in vitro fertility treatments, but not from embryos created expressly for experimentation, be eligible for federal funding. Though embryo destruction had been inevitable in the process of harvesting hESC in the past (this is no longer the case [42] [43] [44] [45] ), the Clinton administration had decided that it would be permissible under the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to fund hESC research as long as such research did not itself directly cause the destruction of an embryo. Therefore, HHS issued its proposed regulation concerning hESC funding in 2001. Enactment of the new guidelines was delayed by the incoming George W. Bush administration which decided to reconsider the issue.

President Bush announced, on August 9, 2001, that federal funds, for the first time, would be made available for hESC research on currently existing embryonic stem cell lines. President Bush authorized research on existing human embryonic stem cell lines, not on human embryos under a specific, unrealistic timeline in which the stem cell lines must have been developed. However, the Bush Administration chose not to permit taxpayer funding for research on hESC cell lines not currently in existence, thus limiting federal funding to research in which "the life-and-death decision has already been made". [46] The Bush Administration's guidelines differ from the Clinton Administration guidelines which did not distinguish between currently existing and not-yet-existing hESC. Both the Bush and Clinton guidelines agree that the federal government should not fund hESC research that directly destroys embryos.

Neither Congress nor any administration has ever prohibited private funding of embryonic research. Public and private funding of research on adult and cord blood stem cells is unrestricted.

U.S. Congressional response

In April 2004, 206 members of Congress signed a letter urging President Bush to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research beyond what Bush had already supported.

In May 2005, the House of Representatives voted 238–194 to loosen the limitations on federally funded embryonic stem-cell research – by allowing government-funded research on surplus frozen embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics to be used for stem cell research with the permission of donors – despite Bush's promise to veto the bill if passed. [47] On July 29, 2005, Senate Majority Leader William H. Frist (R-TN), announced that he too favored loosening restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. [48] On July 18, 2006, the Senate passed three different bills concerning stem cell research. The Senate passed the first bill (the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act) 63–37, which would have made it legal for the federal government to spend federal money on embryonic stem cell research that uses embryos left over from in vitro fertilization procedures. [49] On July 19, 2006 President Bush vetoed this bill. The second bill makes it illegal to create, grow, and abort fetuses for research purposes. The third bill would encourage research that would isolate pluripotent, i.e., embryonic-like, stem cells without the destruction of human embryos.

In 2005 and 2007, Congressman Ron Paul introduced the Cures Can Be Found Act, [50] with 10 cosponsors. With an income tax credit, the bill favors research upon non–embryonic stem cells obtained from placentas, umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, humans after birth, or unborn human offspring who died of natural causes; the bill was referred to committee. Paul argued that hESC research is outside of federal jurisdiction either to ban or to subsidize. [51]

Bush vetoed another bill, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, [52] which would have amended the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research. The bill passed the Senate on April 11 by a vote of 63–34, then passed the House on June 7 by a vote of 247–176. President Bush vetoed the bill on July 19, 2007. [53]

On March 9, 2009, President Obama removed the restriction on federal funding for newer stem cell lines. [54] Two days after Obama removed the restriction, the president then signed the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, which still contained the long-standing Dickey–Wicker Amendment which bans federal funding of "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death;" [55] the Congressional provision effectively prevents federal funding being used to create new stem cell lines by many of the known methods. So, while scientists might not be free to create new lines with federal funding, President Obama's policy allows the potential of applying for such funding into research involving the hundreds of existing stem cell lines as well as any further lines created using private funds or state-level funding. The ability to apply for federal funding for stem cell lines created in the private sector is a significant expansion of options over the limits imposed by President Bush, who restricted funding to the 21 viable stem cell lines that were created before he announced his decision in 2001. [56] The ethical concerns raised during Clinton's time in office continue to restrict hESC research and dozens of stem cell lines have been excluded from funding, now by judgment of an administrative office rather than presidential or legislative discretion. [57]


In 2005, the NIH funded $607 million worth of stem cell research, of which $39 million was specifically used for hESC. [58] Sigrid Fry-Revere has argued that private organizations, not the federal government, should provide funding for stem-cell research, so that shifts in public opinion and government policy would not bring valuable scientific research to a grinding halt. [59]

In 2005, the State of California took out $3 billion in bond loans to fund embryonic stem cell research in that state. [60]


China has one of the most permissive human embryonic stem cell policies in the world. In the absence of a public controversy, human embryo stem cell research is supported by policies that allow the use of human embryos and therapeutic cloning. [61]

Religious views

Generally speaking, no group advocates for unrestricted stem cell research, especially in the context of embryonic stem cell research.

Jewish view

According to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Halperin of the Institute for Science and Jewish Law in Jerusalem, embryonic stem cell research is permitted so long as it has not been implanted in the womb. Not only is it permitted, but research is encouraged, rather than wasting it.

Similarly, the sole Jewish majority state, Israel, permits research on embryonic stem cells.


The Catholic Church opposes human embryonic stem cell research calling it "an absolutely unacceptable act." The Church supports research that involves stem cells from adult tissues and the umbilical cord, as it "involves no harm to human beings at any state of development." [62] This support has been expressed both politically and financially, with different Catholic groups either raising money indirectly, offering grants, or seeking to pass federal legislation, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Specific examples include a grant from the Catholic Archiocese of Sydney which funded research demonstrating the capabilities of adult stem cells, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops working to pass federal legislation creating a nationwide public bank for umbilical cord blood stem cells. [63]


The Southern Baptist Convention opposes human embryonic stem cell research on the grounds that "Bible teaches that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27; 9:6) and protectable human life begins at fertilization." [64] However, it supports adult stem cell research as it does "not require the destruction of embryos." [64]


The United Methodist Church opposes human embryonic stem cell research, saying, "a human embryo, even at its earliest stages, commands our reverence." [65] However, it supports adult stem cell research, stating that there are "few moral questions" raised by this issue. [65]


The Assemblies of God opposes human embryonic stem cell research, saying, it "perpetuates the evil of abortion and should be prohibited." [66]


The religion of Islam generally favors the stance that scientific research and development in terms of stem cell research is allowed as long as it benefits society while using the least amount of harm to the subjects. "Stem cell research is one of the most controversial topics of our time period and has raised many religious and ethical questions regarding the research being done. With there being no true guidelines set forth in the Qur'an against the study of biomedical testing, Muslims have adopted any new studies as long as the studies do not contradict another teaching in the Qur'an. One of the teachings of the Qur'an states that “Whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be if he saves the life of humankind” (5:32), it is this teaching that makes stem cell research acceptable in the Muslim faith because of its promise of potential medical breakthrough." [67] This statement does not, however, make a distinction between adult, embryonic, or stem-cells. In specific instances, different sources have issued fatwas, or nonbinding but authoritative legal opinions according to Islamic faith, ruling on conduct in stem cell research. The Fatwa of the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of the Islamic World League (December 2003) addressed permissible stem cell sources, as did the Fatwa Khomenei (2002) in Iran. Several different governments in predominantly Muslim countries have also supported stem cell research, notably Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "has not taken a position regarding the use of embryonic stem cells for research purposes. The absence of a position should not be interpreted as support for or opposition to any other statement made by Church members, whether they are for or against embryonic stem cell research.” [68]

See also

Related Research Articles

Human cloning

Human cloning is the creation of a genetically identical copy of a human. The term is generally used to refer to artificial human cloning, which is the reproduction of human cells and tissue. It does not refer to the natural conception and delivery of identical twins. The possibility of human cloning has raised controversies. These ethical concerns have prompted several nations to pass laws regarding human cloning and its legality.

Somatic cell nuclear transfer

In genetics and developmental biology, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is a laboratory strategy for creating a viable embryo from a body cell and an egg cell. The technique consists of taking an enucleated oocyte and implanting a donor nucleus from a somatic (body) cell. It is used in both therapeutic and reproductive cloning. Dolly the Sheep became famous for being the first successful case of the reproductive cloning of a mammal. In January 2018, a team of scientists in Shanghai announced the successful cloning of two female crab-eating macaques from fetal nuclei. "Therapeutic cloning" refers to the potential use of SCNT in regenerative medicine; this approach has been championed as an answer to the many issues concerning embryonic stem cells (ESC) and the destruction of viable embryos for medical use, though questions remain on how homologous the two cell types truly are.

Embryoid body three-dimensional aggregate of pluripotent stem cells

Embryoid bodies (EBs) are three-dimensional aggregates of pluripotent stem cells. The pluripotent cell types that comprise embryoid bodies include embryonic stem cells (ESCs) derived from the blastocyst stage of embryos from mouse (mESC), primate, and human (hESC) sources. Additionally, EBs can be formed from embryonic stem cells derived through alternative techniques, including somatic cell nuclear transfer or the reprogramming of somatic cells to yield induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). Similar to ESCs cultured in monolayer formats, ESCs within embryoid bodies undergo differentiation and cell specification along the three germ lineages – endoderm, ectoderm, and mesoderm – which comprise all somatic cell types.

The Dickey-Wicker Amendment is the name of an appropriation bill rider attached to a bill passed by United States Congress in 1995, and signed by former President Bill Clinton, which prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from using appropriated funds for the creation of human embryos for research purposes or for research in which human embryos are destroyed. HHS funding includes the funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Technically the Dickey Amendment is a "rider" to other legislation, which amends the original legislation. The rider receives its name from the name of the Congressman that originally introduced the amendment, Representative Jay Dickey. The Dickey amendment language has been added to each of the Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations acts for FY1997 through FY2009. The original rider can be found in Section 128 of P.L. 104-99 . The wording of the rider is generally the same year after year. For FY2009, the wording in Division F, Section 509 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009, prohibits HHS, including NIH, from using FY2009 appropriated funds as follows:

Regenerative medicine branch of translational research in tissue engineering and molecular biology dealing with the process of replacing, engineering, or regenerating biological units to (re-)establish normal function

Regenerative medicine is a branch of translational research in tissue engineering and molecular biology which deals with the "process of replacing, engineering or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function". This field holds the promise of engineering damaged tissues and organs by stimulating the body's own repair mechanisms to functionally heal previously irreparable tissues or organs.

Cord blood is blood that remains in the placenta and in the attached umbilical cord after childbirth. Cord blood is collected because it contains stem cells, which can be used to treat hematopoietic and genetic disorders.

Adult stem cell

Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells, found throughout the body after development, that multiply by cell division to replenish dying cells and regenerate damaged tissues. Also known as somatic stem cells , they can be found in juvenile as well as adult animals and humans, unlike embryonic stem cells.

A stem cell line is a group of stem cells that is cultured in vitro and can be propagated indefinitely. Stem cell lines are derived from either animal or human tissues and come from one of three sources: embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, or induced stem cells. They are commonly used in research and regenerative medicine.

Stem-cell therapy is the use of stem cells to treat or prevent a disease or condition.

An amniotic epithelial cell is a form of stem cell extracted from the lining of the inner membrane of the placenta. Amniotic epithelial cells start to develop around 8 days post fertilization. These cells are known to have some of the same markers as embryonic stem cells, more specifically, Oct-4 and nanog. These transcription factors are the basis of the pluripotency of stem cells. Amniotic epithelial cells have the ability to develop into any of the three germ layers: endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm. They can develop into several organ tissues specific to these germ layers including heart, brain, and liver. The pluripotency of the human amniotic epithelial cells makes them useful in treating and fighting diseases and disorders of the nervous system as well as other tissues of the human body. Artificial heart valves and working tracheas, as well as muscle, fat, bone, heart, neural and liver cells have all been engineered using amniotic stem cells. Tissues obtained from amniotic cell lines show promise for patients suffering from congenital diseases or malformations of the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and cerebral tissue.

The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1986 and based in Minneapolis, Minnesota that operates the Be The Match Registry of volunteer hematopoietic cell donors and umbilical cord blood units in the United States.

Induced pluripotent stem cell

Induced pluripotent stem cells are a type of pluripotent stem cell that can be generated directly from adult cells. The iPSC technology was pioneered by Shinya Yamanaka’s lab in Kyoto, Japan, who showed in 2006 that the introduction of four specific genes encoding transcription factors could convert adult cells into pluripotent stem cells. He was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize along with Sir John Gurdon "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent."

Royan Institute is an Iranian clinical, research and educational institute dedicated to biomedical, translational and clinical researches, stem cell research and infertility treatment. It is a public non-profitable organization affiliated to Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research. It was established in 1991 by the late Dr. Saeid Kazemi Ashtiani as a research institute for Reproductive Biomedicine and infertility treatments. In 1998 this institute was approved by Ministry of Health as Cell Based Research Center with over 46 scientific members and 186 lab technicians.

Embryomics is the identification, characterization and study of the diverse cell types which arise during embryogenesis, especially as this relates to the location and developmental history of cells in the embryo. Cell type may be determined according to several criteria: location in the developing embryo, gene expression as indicated by protein and nucleic acid markers and surface antigens, and also position on the embryogenic tree.

Stem cell laws are the law rules, and policy governance concerning the sources, research, and uses in treatment of stem cells in humans. These laws have been the source of much controversy and vary significantly by country. In the European Union, stem cell research using the human embryo is permitted in Sweden, Spain, Finland, Belgium, Greece, Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands; however, it is illegal in Germany, Austria, Ireland, Italy, and Portugal. The issue has similarly divided the United States, with several states enforcing a complete ban and others giving support. Elsewhere, Japan, India, Iran, Israel, South Korea, China, and Australia are supportive. However, New Zealand, most of Africa, and most of South America are restrictive.

Stem cell laws and policy in the United States have had a complicated legal and political history.

Cell potency

Cell potency is a cell's ability to differentiate into other cell types. The more cell types a cell can differentiate into, the greater its potency. Potency is also described as the gene activation potential within a cell, which like a continuum, begins with totipotency to designate a cell with the most differentiation potential, pluripotency, multipotency, oligopotency, and finally unipotency.


  1. Mahla RS (2016). "Stem cells application in regenerative medicine and disease threpeutics". International Journal of Cell Biology. 2016 (7): 1–24. doi:10.1155/2016/6940283. PMC   4969512 . PMID   27516776.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  2. "Stem Cells for Tissue Regeneration and Joint Repair", Science Daily , 29 March 2006.
  3. Genetic Science Learning Center. "The Stem Cell Debate: Is It Over?". Learn Genetics. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  4. Park, Alice. "George W. Bush and the Stem Cell Research Funding Ban". healthland.time. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  5. "Obama Ends Stem Cell Research Ban". CBS News. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  6. Takahashi K & Yamanaka S (2006). "Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Mouse Embryonic and Adult Fibroblast Cultures by Defined Factors". Cell. 126 (4): 663–676. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2006.07.024. PMID   16904174.
  7. "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – 2012 Press Release". Nobel Media AB. 8 October 2012.
  8. Cowan CA, Atienza J, Melton DA, Eggan K (August 2005). "Nuclear reprogramming of somatic cells after fusion with human embryonic stem cells". Science. 309 (5739): 1369–1373. Bibcode:2005Sci...309.1369C. doi:10.1126/science.1116447. PMID   16123299.
  9. Klimanskaya I, Chung Y, Becker S, Lu SJ, Lanza R (November 2006). "Human embryonic stem cell lines derived from single blastomeres". Nature. 444 (7118): 481–485. Bibcode:2006Natur.444..481K. doi:10.1038/nature05142. PMID   16929302.
  10. News, A. B. C. "Health Index". ABC News.
  11. ScienceNOW – Reuters: U.S. Company Says Grows Embryo-Safe Stem Cells
  12. Clout, Laura; Agencies (2007-09-01). "Scientists report alternative stem cell source". The Daily Telegraph . London. Retrieved 2007-09-20.
  13. "The stated reason for President Bush's objection to embryonic stem cell research is that 'murder is wrong'" (BBC)
  14. Weiss, Rick. (May 8, 2003) "400,000 Human Embryos Frozen in U.S.," Washington Post. Retrieved August 24, 2006.
  15. Connolly, Ceci. (July 30, 2005) "Frist Breaks With Bush On Stem Cell Research". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 24, 2006.
  16. "NIH Publishes Final Guidelines for Stem Cell Research". National Institutes of Health. 2000. Archived from the original on 2007-08-21. Retrieved 2007-04-29.
  17. "Deriving Stem Cells Without Killing Embryo". Medical News Today. 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
  18. "New stem cell breakthrough". 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
  19. Wade, Nicholas (June 6, 2007). "Biologists Make Skin Cells Work Like Stem Cells". The New York Times . Retrieved 2007-12-26.
  20. Weiss, Rick (June 7, 2007). "Scientists Use Skin To Create Stem Cells". The Washington Post . Retrieved 2007-12-26.
  21. "Scientists Convert Mouse Skin Cells to Stem Cells". Public Broadcasting Service. 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
  22. "Transfer of Bone Marrow Derived Stem Cells for the Treatment of Spinal Cord Injury - Full Text View -".
  23. "Safety and Feasibility of Umbilical Cord Blood Cell Transplant Into Injured Spinal Cord - Full Text View -".
  24. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "Arguments For Stem cell Research". Spinneypress. 2006. Archived from the original on 2008-02-01. Retrieved 2007-12-26.
  25. Raymond J. Devettere. Practical Decision Making in Health Care Ethics
  26. Kathleen Stassen Berger. The Developing Person Through the Life Span
  27. Greenfield, Marjorie. “Dr.". Retrieved 2007-01-20.
  28. Singer, Peter. Rethinking life & death: the collapse of our traditional ethics , page 104 (St. Martins Press 1996). Retrieved 2007-03-04.
  29. West, Michael D. (2005). The Ethics of Genetic Engineering (At Issue Series). pp. 100–107. Thomson Gale
  30. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). Retrieved 2007-05-15
  31. Prentice, David. (October 17, 2005) "Live Patients & Dead Mice". Christianity Today. Retrieved on August 24, 2006.
  32. The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics. "The "Political Science" of Stem Cells". Archived 2006-10-02 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on July 16, 2006.
  33. Baertschi, Bernard, and Mauron, Alexandre. "Moral Status Revisited: The Challenge of Reversed Potency". Bioethics 24.2 (2010): 96–103. Retrieved. 19 Apr. 2015.
  34. “Stem Cell Basics: Introduction” Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009. Retrieved. 19 Apr. 2015
  35. Robertson, John A. "Embryo Stem Cell Research: Ten Years Of Controversy". Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 38.2 (2010): 191–203. Retrieved. 19 Apr. 2015.
  36. Wislet-Gendebien, S., Laudet, E., Neirinckx, V., & Rogister, B. (2012). "Adult Bone Marrow: Which Stem Cells for Cellular Therapy Protocols in Neurodegenerative Disorders?". Journal of Biomedicine & Biotechnology, 20121–10. doi : 10.1155/2012/601560.
  37. Accessed: 11/1/10 | First person treated in milestone stem cell trial | 17:59 11 October 2010 by Andy Coghlan |
  38. Cyranoski D (June 2007). "Simple switch turns cells embryonic". Nature. 447 (7145): 618–619. Bibcode:2007Natur.447..618C. doi:10.1038/447618a. PMID   17554270.
  39. 1 2 Wiedemann PM, Simon J, Schicktanz S, Tannert C (October 2004). "The future of stem-cell research in Germany". EMBO Rep. 5 (10): 927–931. doi:10.1038/sj.embor.7400266. PMC   1299161 . PMID   15459742. As noted before, the production of hESC lines is currently illegal in Germany; the 1990 Embryo Protection Act prohibits any utilization of the embryo that does not serve its preservation. ... Ireland, Austria, Denmark and France prohibit any production of hESC lines...Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK allow the production of hESC lines from surplus IVF embryos.
  40. "President Clinton's Comments on NIH and Human Embryo Research". U.S. National Archives. December 2, 1994. Retrieved 2006-07-19.
  41. "The Politics of Stem Cells". Nova | PBS. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
  42. Klimanskaya, Irina; Chung, Young; Becker, Sandy; Lu, Shi-Jiang; Lanza, Robert (23 August 2006). "Human embryonic stem cell lines derived from single blastomeres". Nature. 444 (7118): 481–485. Bibcode:2006Natur.444..481K. doi:10.1038/nature05142. PMID   16929302.
  43. Kao, CF; Chuang, CY; Chen, CH; Kuo, HC (2008). "Human pluripotent stem cells: Current status and future perspectives". The Chinese Journal of Physiology. 51 (4): 214–225. PMID   19112879.
  46. "President Discusses Stem Cell Research".
  47. "A Step Closer to Stem-Cell Heaven". Wired. 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
  48. Connolly, Ceci (July 30, 2005). "Despite Bush Veto, Stem Cell Research Abounds". The Washington Post. pp. A01. Retrieved 2006-07-21.
  49. Kellman, Laurie (July 18, 2006). "Senate Approves Embryo Stem Cell Bill". Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  50. H.R. 457, 110th Congress
  51. "Rights of Taxpayers is Missing Element in Stem Cell Debate". The Ron Paul Library. Archived from the original on 2007-12-11.
  52. S. 5
  53. "Senate Approves Embryonic Stem Cell Bill", David Espo, Associated Press, April 12, 2007
  54. "Obama overturns Bush policy on stem cells" CNN, March 9, 2009
  55. Obama's Stem Cell Policy Hasn't Reversed Legislative Restrictions Archived March 18, 2009, at the Wayback Machine , Fox News, March 14, 2009
  56. Aldhous, Peter (March 2009). "Obama lifts research restrictions on embryonic stem cells". New Scientist (online). Retrieved 2009-03-16. This frees biologists to work with a wide range of human ESCs – including cell lines created with state and private funding. But researchers are not expected to be able to use federal grants to create new cell lines. This is because of a 1996 law called the Dickey-Wicker amendment...
  57. "Statement from the Director on the Addition of New Lines to the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry" Archived 2010-07-12 at the Wayback Machine NIH, June 21, 2010
  58. "Estimates of Funding for Various Diseases, Conditions, Research Areas". National Institutes of Health. 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
  59. "Best Hope Lies in Private Stem-Cell Funding" . Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  60. "California's Stem Cell Agency". California's Stem Cell Agency.
  61. "%5d ""Kerstin Klein, Illiberal Biopolitics, Human Embryos and the Stem Cell Controversy in China, 2010"] London School of Economics-LSE]".
  62. "On Embryonic Stem Cell Research" (PDF). USCCB Publishing . Retrieved 2007-06-24.
  63. "Catholic Support for Ethically Acceptable Stem Cell Research". USCCB Publishing . Retrieved 2019-01-16.
  64. 1 2 "Resolution On Human Embryonic And Stem Cell Research". Southern Baptist Convention . Retrieved 2007-06-24.
  65. 1 2 "Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cell Research". The United Methodist Church. Archived from the original on 2013-04-16. Retrieved 2007-06-24.
  66. "Sanctity of Human Life Including Abortion and Euthanasia" (PDF). Assemblies of God. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-09-26. Retrieved 2007-06-24.
  67. Agha, Fatima; Hayani, Al (2008). "Muslim perspectives on stem cell research and cloning". Zygon. 4 (43): 783–795.
  68. "Embryonic Stem-cell Research". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . Retrieved 2011-10-20.