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Stem Cell Facts

Stem cell research is perhaps the most exciting medical technology of the 21st Century. Stem cells hold the promise of treatments and cures for more than 70 major diseases and conditions that affect millions of people, including diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), spinal cord injuries, blindness, and HIV/AIDS.

Stem Cells are the Body's Basic Building Blocks

  • Stem cells have two unique qualities: they can copy themselves for an unlimited period of time and they can grow into all of the body's different cell types

  • When a stem cell copies itself, each of the two new cells can either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell such as a muscle cell, a blood cell, or a brain cell.

  • Some stem cells grow into organs, bones and tissues of the body, but other stem cells work in its immune and repair systems. Called "adult" stem cells, they create replacement cells for those that are lost because of injury, disease or the normal wear and tear of aging.

  • Adult stem cells can be used for research and treatment, but most researchers believe that "embryonic" stem cells have much more potential to study, treat and cure diseases.

  • Not all stem cells are alike.

    • Adult stem cells are called "multipotent." This means they can turn into several different kinds of cells within the same basic cell type. For example, adult stem cells found in bone marrow can turn into all of the different types of cells found in blood. Research on adult stem cells has been funded for over 40 years and many successful therapies have been developed.

    • Embryonic stem cells are called "pluripotent." This means they can turn into all of the body's cell types except egg and sperm cells. Embryonic stem cells were first discovered in 1998 and research on them has not yet been well funded. Scientists believe that the potential of embryonic stem cells is even greater than adult stem cells.

  • Embryonic stem cells are blank, unspecialized cells found in the interior of a blastocyst. A blastocyst is a mass of 150 or so cells that is smaller than a period at the end of this sentence. It develops approximately 5-14 days after an egg is fertilized.

  • Scientists have been able to get stem cells to grow into complex cells with special functions, like the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin or heart muscle cells.

  • A research process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), sometimes referred to as "therapeutic cloning", allows scientists to produce embryonic stem cells without using sperm to fertilize an egg. In this process, there is no implantation in a uterus and therefore no pregnancy.

  • Using new tools like somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), scientists hope to make cell lines that are specific to a patient and/or a disease. This will help them study diseases in a powerful new way and help them discover better treatments and cures.

Stem Cell Research is Developing Breakthrough Cures & Offering New Hope

  • Life-saving stem cell treatments are already successful and in widespread use for some diseases. For example, bone marrow transplants use stem cells to treat leukemia.

  • Stem cell research could lead to treatments that save millions of lives and improve the quality-of-life for millions more.

  • Scientists are working on a wide range of stem cell-based therapies. They have created "tissue patches" for burn victims. They have grown islet cells that produce insulin to treat diabetes and healthy brain cells to ease the symptoms of disorders like Parkinson's disease. They have genetically changed cells and then used them to deliver healing or protective agents to injured or diseased areas of the body.

Broad Consensus Exists in Support of Stem Cell Research

Stem cell research has strong support by many notable groups including the American Medical Association and the National Health Council.

  • 68% of Americans support embryonic stem cell research.

  • 55% of Texans favor medical research using embryonic stem cells.

  • 70% of Kansas voters want to allow SCNT research in Kansas.

  • 63% of Missouri voters approve of embryonic stem cell research.

  • 64% of Americans support federal funding of research on chronic diseases using stem cells taken from human embryos.


Find out more answers to some of the most Frequently Asked Questions about stem cell research or check out our Glossary and links to other stem cell research resources.