Stem Cell Research

We strongly support the protection and expansion of all forms of stem cell research, which offer great hope for a cure and better treatments for diabetes. We support legislation and proposals that enhance funding for stem cell research at the federal and state levels.

What are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are different from other cells because they have the unique potential to become cells with special functions such as the insulin-producing beta cells found in the pancreas. There are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic and adult stem cells.

Promise for a Cure

There has already been great progress in this area. Important advances have been made through embryonic and adult stem cell research. The Association supports all forms of stem cell research within a strong ethical framework.

Scientists from across the United States and throughout the world – including those involved with the American Diabetes Association – believe that stem cell research, especially embryonic stem cell research, holds great promise in the search for a cure and better treatments for diabetes. Stem cell research allows scientists to better explore ways to control and direct stem cells so they can grow into other cells, such as insulin-producing cells.

Federal Policy

In 2001, President Bush announced that federal funding of stem cell research would be allowed, but would be limited to a small number of stem cell lines then in existence.

In March 9, 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order to expand the number of stem cell lines available for federally-funded research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) then developed ethical guidelines for approving requests for federal funding of this research.

On April 27, 2010, NIH announced that 13 additional lines of human embryonic stem cells are eligible for federal funding. Federal approval included nine lines that had never before been eligible for federal funding and four long-used lines.

On August 23, 2010, Judge Lamberth issued a preliminary (or temporary) injunction against the Obama Administration’s 2009 Executive Order expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. In essence, Judge Lamberth ruled there was a strong likelihood that the policy violates a federal law called the Dickey-Wicker amendment. This amendment – which is legislation passed annually by Congress – bans federal financing for any research in which human embryo(s) are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of death. The injunction was intended to halt federal funding for embryonic stem cell research until the courts reached a conclusive decision on whether the policy does indeed violate this law. As a result, federal research programs began to shut down.

In response, the Obama Administration appealed the judge's action, arguing that NIH’s new rules do not violate Dickey-Wicker, as federal funding would be used only once the embryonic stem cell lines were created but not to finance the destruction of embryos. The Administration also argued that there would be great harm to ongoing research were it to be halted while the lawsuit works its way through the courts.

On Tuesday, September 28, 2010, a federal appeals court granted the Administration’s request to stay the August 23 injunction pending an appeal of the injunction to the appeals court. This ruling will allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to continue – at least until the appeal is decided.

On January 7, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court refused an appeal to hear the case brought by plaintiffs Drs. James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, which challenged the Obama Administration’s 2009 guidelines that allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The Supreme Court’s ruling, which was issued without comment or dissent, allows federal funding of these studies to continue under the Administration’s rules. The Court’s action effectively brings the lawsuit, originally filed in 2010, to an end.  Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, scientists can proceed with studies knowing that the Obama Administration’s policy on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research will remain in place. 

What Can Congress Do?

Members of Congress should cosponsor the “Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act” (H.R. 2433), which would expand the current federal policy on embryonic stem cell research by allowing additional stem cell lines to be eligible for federal funding regardless of the date on which they were derived, within strict ethical guidelines. The legislation would place clear and strong ethical requirements on what stem cells could be used for research, requires informed consent, and prohibits financial incentives to donors. The Association supports H.R. 2433.

Take action now to urge your Representative to support this legislation.

State Policy

Both a federal and state legislative priority is to increase funding for stem cell research in order to help scientists find a cure and better treatments for diabetes. We are able to work with many partners on this issue including academic institutions and hospitals.

With stem cell research, the fiscal climate has led to some states holding monies back, while other states have sought to prohibit using state funds on embryonic stem cell research or even to make it unlawful. Now that federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell have been loosened, some state policy makers find there is less rationale to continue state level funding. As noted above, the availability of federal funding has been put in doubt by recent litigation.

Challenges in this area going forward will be the tremendous budget cuts that many states are making in light of the overall economic downturn. In some states, our strategy has been to protect current stem cell research funding levels, particularly where there are current funding initiatives. In other states, the potential may exist to work successfully towards garnering increased funding. In addition, we will most likely face efforts to criminalize stem cell research in some states. We have consistently seen this kind of legislation over the past few years and have opposed those efforts.

To get additional information on your state's genetic laws and legislative activities, visit the following Web sites:

  • Last Reviewed: October 7, 2013
  • Last Edited: July 17, 2014

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