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Stem Cells

Background and Legal Issues Related to Stem Cell Research

Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Scientists are still studying the scope of human embryonic stem cells as they have the potential to develop into almost any cell in the human body. Using blastocyst, the inner cell mass of the early human embryos, they developed the first human embryonic stem cell lines. The focus was on discovering the true potential of these cells in treating diseases and conditions and to regenerate tissues for disfunctioning cells or organs. They had focused on spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes among others. The source of the stem cells included 7 day embryos which were left post an IVF infertility treatment and 5- 7 week old embryos obtained through abortions and developed tissues such as umbilical cord blood and bone marrow. Since 1998, there have been controversies surrounding extraction of stem cells from embryos as it involved destroying them. As these were far more useful than developed stem cells, researchers focused more on them.

Political Impact

Executive Action

  1. In 2001 President Bush took office and announced that he would conduct a review of the stem cell research issue. He also ordered the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to review the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) guidelines that had been issued by the former administration.
  2. August 9, 2001, President Bush declared that federal funds would only be available to support limited human embryonic stem cell research. As per this policy federal funds could be used for research on 64 existing stem cell lines that had already been derived or were already in existence as of the date of the announcement. He had passed this as he believed that the existing stem cell lines had been destroyed already and could not develop as humans.
  3. March 9, 2009, Bush administration's eight-year ban on federal funding of embryonic stem research was lifted by President Barack Obama, by Executive Order. The President quoted “Today... we will bring the change that so many scientists and researchers, doctors and innovators, patients and loved ones have hoped for, and fought for, these past eight years.”







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