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Embryonic stem cells have the ability to develop into virtually any cell in the body. Stem cells are used by scientists to study the growth and differentiation of individual cells into tissues. This work may provide insights into the causes of birth defects, genetic abnormalities, and other disease states, as well as potential treatments. The research is controversial, in the opinion of some, because the stem cells are located within the embryo and the process of removing them destroys the embryo. Some have argued that stem cell research should be limited to adult stem cells obtained from tissues such as bone marrow or umbilical cord blood because they believe the derivation of stem cells from embryos is ethically unacceptable. Other scientists believe that adult stem cells should not be the sole target of research because of important scientific and technical limitations.
Due to the controversy, federal policy has limited federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells. In response, many states are moving forward with their own initiatives to encourage or provide funding for stem cell research in order to remain competitive and prevent the relocation of scientists and biotechnology firms to other states or overseas. However, without the central direction and coordinated research approach that the federal government can provide, many are concerned that the states’ actions will result in duplication of research efforts among the states, a possible lack of oversight for ethical concerns, and ultimately a loss of U.S. preeminence in this important area of basic research. This report will be updated periodically.