May 29, 2024


State governments and private donors will probably remain the biggest supporters of human embryonic stem cell research, even if President Bush’s successor reverses his restrictions on federal funding. According to by James Fossett of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, “federalism by necessity” will remain the pattern of stem cell research. But despite its unwieldiness and complexity, this system is producing funds for American hESC research. California’s stem cell institute, funded with a US$3 billion bond issue, has already doled out $200 million for hESC research, more than five times what the Federal government’s annual allocation.

Several states are enthusiastic supporters of hESC research, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Maryland, and have promised substantial funding. Over the next ten years, their support could amount to more than $500 million a year. And most of these states will focus on embryo research as a priority.

“Even if as little as half of potential state funding is devoted to hESC research, states would be outspending NIH by a factor of six in this area,” says Fossett. Another source of funding is private philanthropy, although this is less consistent. Fossett’s research shows that at least $1.7 billion has been donated for hESC research. Two novel trends have emerged in this area. The first is that private donors have directed supported the work of government agencies. The second is that private money has been used to support political campaigns in support of hESC research.

Although Fossett is glum about the prospect of increased Federal funding after Bush, “federalism by necessity” has its advantages. States are competing amongst themselves, and with foreign countries, to attract the best researchers and to keep a competitive edge.  


In partnership with IVF clinics, a California company is offering couples an opportunity turn their surplus embryos into medically useful stem cell lines for them and their children. claims to be the first to offer this service. “Clients will have access to their own high quality, genetically-matched stem cells, which they may use when personalised therapies become available,” promises the company’s website.

The catch is that no one has yet developed stem cell lines for any of the touted cures. “It’s a gimmick and many of the claims rest on hot air,” says bioethicist Arthur Caplan, of the University of Pennsylvania. “The problem is that no one has made anything useful out of stem cells.”