Embryonic Stem Cells
JDRF Position Paper: September 2003
Two years ago, the Administration announced that U.S. federal funds could be used to support
research using selected human embryonic stem cell lines.
The potential of stem cell research to understand and treat disease has been demonstrated in
animals since 2001. In the case of juvenile diabetes, the promise remains significant, especially
in efforts to coax stem cells to become insulin-producing beta cells that could be transplanted
But research progress in the U.S. with human embryonic stem cells has been disappointing,
at best. The development of a robust research community focused on embryonic stem cell inves-
tigation has been slowed by political issues, ethical debate, funding considerations,
intellectual property concerns, and difficulty in recruiting scientists to the field.
In announcing its embryonic stem cell policy, the Administration established several guidelines,
including one stating that the process to derive all cell lines utilized in research had to have
begun before August 9, 2001. This guideline, meant to create a scientific and ethical foundation
for embryonic stem cell research, has had the greatest impact on slowing the pace and progress
of embryonic stem cell research. But neither the Administration nor many researchers fully
understood that the quantity of available lines is central to realizing the potential of stem cells
to cure diseases.
Soon after the announcement, NIH listed 78 human embryonic stem cell lines that met the
Administration’s criteria for research to be eligible for federal funding; but today the current
NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry lists just 11 cell lines as being available. It is clear
that the number of lines currently available is well short of what is necessary for the
Administration to achieve the goals of its own stated policy. That has created a significant
drag on the Administration’s vision of building a platform for the study and amelioration of a