By executive order, President Bush limited the federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research to the few registered cell lines created before August 2001. In the years since the implementation of this policy, research on human embryonic stem cells has stagnated in the United States. The stagnation is due to significantly fewer cell lines being available than announced, contamination of cell lines with mouse cells, and a lack of genetic diversity within the lines. While the United States restricts human embryonic stem cell research, other countries including the United Kingdom, Chine, and South Korea are aggressively moving forwards with their own stem cell research initiatices. Without changes to the current policy, significant capital, as well as investment capital, will be transferred from the United States to other nations which have more open research policies.
Beyond the issues of competitiveness, human embryonic stem cell research policy must address ethical concerns. Proponents of such research must be cognizant of its ethical issues and concerns. Similarly, those who questions the appropriateness, even the morality of such research, should be aware of the potential benefirts that could result from such new medical knowledge. In addition, any laws and regulations dealing with stem cells and human cloning should be clear with regard to the possibility of allowing therapeutic cloning while effectively safeguarding against reproductive cloning.
The Baker Institute Science and Technology Policy Program has established a conference series to examine the complexities of stem cell research policy. Our objectives are to discuss not only the research advances, but also the underlying ethical and policy issues as well as the benefits and risks of possible therapeutic applications of both embryonic and adult stem cell research. The goal of the series is to raise public awareness to the fact that for the first time in history, the United States could lose its leadership role in biomedical research.