Dossier: The Stem-Cell Gap

Embryonic stem-cell research may produce a renewable source of tissue transplants and lead to cures for diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's … Embryonic stem cells are derived from 4- to 5-day-old blastocysts, clusters of about 150 cells that measure no more than two-tenths of a millimeter … On August 9, 2001, George W. Bush decreed that federal funding could go only to embryonic stem cells derived prior to that day, and not to any extracted from embryos then in storage or created subsequently … He claimed that “more than 60” stem-cell lines were then available for use … According to the National Institutes of Health's “best-case scenario,” no more than 23 of the lines are actually viable … Since then, at least 81 other lines have been derived, including lines for study of disorders like Fragile-X and cystic fibrosis … At the 2004 Republican national convention, Laura Bush claimed that her husband was “the first president to provide federal funding for stem-cell research” … Actually, every president since at least Richard Nixon has funded adult stem-cell research, and embryonic stem-cell research had just become possible in 1998 … John Edwards was repeatedly criticized for claiming that stem-cell research could eventually help “people like Christopher Reeve … walk again” … Senator Bill Frist, a doctor, said such statements were giving “false hope” to people with disabilities and chronic diseases … In May 2005, the Reeve-Irvine Research Center announced that it had repaired spinal-cord tissue damage in mice with embryonic stem cells … South Korea has spent more than $26 million on the research of one scientist, Hwang Woo-suk … With this money, Hwang has created the first embryonic stem cells that genetically match sick patients … Britain has spent £40 million to, among other things, open the world's first stem-cell bank … California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Wisconsin have pledged a combined $3.2 billion for research … On May 24, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow federal funding for stem-cell lines derived from donated embryos … According to a poll released the day before by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, only 32 percent of respondents considered protecting embryos more important than pursuing stem-cell research … “White evangelical Protestants” were the only demographic to disagree … The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins called the House bill “unconscionable” and “shameful” … President Bush has promised to veto the bill.