July 6, 2009 / 7:30 PM / 11 years ago

FACTBOX-Embryonic stem cells, the ultimate master cell

(For a story on the stem cell rules, click on [ID:nN06264664])

July 6 (Reuters) - The U.S. National Institutes of Health released final rules on Monday governing federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.

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 the new 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 cystic fibrosis.

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

* Several companies are pursuing stem cell research including Geron Corp. (GERN.O) which last week teamed up with General Electric Co (GE.N) to use stem cells to test new drugs for toxicity.

* Other companies involved in stem cell research include Stemcells Inc. STEM.O, Advanced Cell Technology ACTC.PK, NeuralStem CUR.A, Aastrom Biosciences Inc. ASTM.O, Reneuron Group Plc. (RQE.L), Thermogenesis KOOL.O, Osiris Therapeutics Inc OSIR.O, Neostem Inc. NBS.A, Cytori Therapeutics Inc. CYTX.O, iZumi Bio Inc., and International Stem Cell Corporation ISCO.OB.

*U.S. legislation called the Dickey Amendment forbids the use of federal funds for the creation or destruction of human embryos for research, but new U.S. policy allows federally funded researchers to work with cells someone else had taken from an embryo.

* The issue does not fall clearly along party lines and some conservative Republicans who oppose abortion have backed broader federal funding of embryonic stem cell research for years.

* Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Canada and New Zealand encourage embryonic stem cell research. Austria, Lithuania and Poland have laws banning most human embryonic stem cell research.

* 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 scientists agree that all approaches must be pursued. (Editing by David Storey)

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