August 23, 2010 / 11:45 PM / 9 years ago

FACTBOX-Embryonic stem cells: controversial yet powerful

Aug 23 (Reuters) - A U.S. district court stopped federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research on Monday, a challenge to the Obama administration’s new guidelines on the sensitive issue that ensures a bitter court battle. [ID:N23213610]

Following are some facts about stem cells:

* Stem cells are the body’s master cells, the source of all cells and tissue, including brain, blood, heart, bones and muscles.

* Embryonic stem cells come from days-old embryos and can produce any type of cell in the body.

* Scientists generally harvest embryonic stem cells from embryos left over after in-vitro fertilization attempts at fertility clinics. They can also be produced using cloning technology but U.S. rules allow for federal funding only of work on surplus IVF embryos.

* Scientists hope to harness the transformational qualities of stem cells to treat a variety of diseases, including injuries, cancer and diabetes.

* The issue has been controversial because some people believe the destruction of any human embryo is wrong.

* U.S. legislation called the Dickey Amendment forbids the use of federal funds for the creation or destruction of human embryos for research.

* President George W. Bush restricted the use of federal funds to only a few batches of already-existing human embryonic stem cells in 2001. President Barack Obama lifted the restriction in 2009 and asked the National Institutes of Health to decide which embryonic stem cells could be used in federally funded research.

* The ruling on Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth says the Dickey Amendment should forbid the use of federal funds to do any work at all with human embryonic stem cells.

* States such as California, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey acted on their own to fund this research during the years of the Bush restrictions. Institutions such as Harvard University also set up separate operations to pursue the research using private money.

* Many companies are pursuing stem cell research including Geron Corp (GERN.O), Stemcells Inc STEM.O, Advanced Cell Technology ACTC.OB, NeuralStem (CUR.A), Aastrom Biosciences Inc ASTM.O, Reneuron Group Plc (RQE.L), Osiris Therapeutics Inc OSIR.O, Neostem Inc NBS.A, Cytori Therapeutics Inc CYTX.O, iZumi Bio Inc and International Stem Cell Corp ISCO.OB.

* Researchers have discovered how to make embryonic-like cells from ordinary cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research say research can focus on this field, but most experts in the field agree that all approaches must be pursued.

Reporting by Maggie Fox and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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