Human embryonic stem cell research is controversial because some question the ethics of creating and then destroying embryos for scientific research. In 2001, President Bush limited federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research to existing stem cell lines.
Researchers argue that stem cells may one day help treat diseases such as Parkinson’s or damaged organs, by creating perfectly matched tissue to transplant.
Other research is being done on adult stem cells — taken from bone marrow, skin, muscle and umbilical cord blood, among other sources — which avoids the controversy surrounding the use of embryos.
The Harvard researchers, meanwhile, have said they conducted lengthy review processes for their embryonic stem cell work to follow ethical standards and make sure it doesn’t use federal funds, Reuters reported.
“Our long-term goal is to create embryonic stem cells from a patient’s tissues, correct the genetic defects and get the repaired cells back into the patients,” said one of the researchers, Dr. George Daley of Children’s Hospital in Boston, according to Reuters.
Congress has considered legislation on both sides of the issue with supporters of embryonic stem cell research seeking to release more federal funding, and opponents looking to block funding.
The research has had its share of scandal. Earlier this year, a South Korean scientist, Woo Suk Hwang, said his team had cloned human embryos and extracted stem cells from them, but was later found to have falsified his research.
Other groups have claimed to have cloned human babies but never produced supporting evidence.
Several private companies and scientists in Britain are working on embryonic stem cell research.
In 2004, California voters approved a controversial bond measure earmarking $3 billion for human embryonic stem cell research.