(This video is no longer available for streaming.) In this 2005 segment, NOVA scienceNOW explores the promise and potential of the emerging field of stem cell research, as well as the maelstrom of emotion and politics that engulfs it. In February 2004, South Korean scientists create a worldwide media sensation by announcing that they have successfully isolated stem cells from a cloned human embryo. NOVA goes inside the Harvard labs of Doug Melton and his colleagues, who are trying to replicate the South Korean experiment.
Medical researchers see stem cells as a new way of investigating diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's—and of treating them. But from the start, the field is torn by ethical controversy. In a $3 billion bond initiative in California, the state pits itself against the efforts of conservative politicians in Washington and elsewhere who want to shut the research down. Already ineligible for federal funding, the new science is even threatened with criminalization. The House of Representatives twice passes legislation to punish any cloning researcher with 10 years in prison and a million-dollar fine.