What are stem cells?

They are foundation "undifferentiated" cells for every organ and tissue. They have the ability to develop into specialized cells that carry out a specific function. In many tissues they serve as an internal repair system, dividing without limit to replenish other cells.

What are embryonic stem cells?

They come from embryos, or fertilized eggs. They have the ability to become almost any type of cell.

What is their promise?

One day they may become a renewable source of replacement cells to treat diseases or conditions, including Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, heart disease and diabetes.

Why are they controversial? Extracting stem cells from an embryo requires its destruction. Those who believe life begins at the point of conception believe this destroys a life.What was President Bush's policy?

On Aug. 9, 2001, President George W. Bush announced that federal funds could be used only for research using human embryonic stem cells if they were obtained before that date; the cells came from an unused embryo created for reproductive purposes; and that the donation did not involve "financial inducements."What is President Obama's?

On March 9, President Barack Obama ordered the National Institutes of Health to establish a new policy for funding embryonic stem cell research. The policy, released Tuesday, would allow many stem cell lines made during the Bush years without federal funding to now be used in federally funded research. However, federal money would still be limited to stem cells from unused embryos created for reproductive purposes. Compensation is not allowed.

Federal funds cannot be used for the actual making of new human embryonic stem cell lines because of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which prohibits federal dollars from going toward the destruction of embryos. But once lines are established, federal money could be used to support research on those lines.

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So what about New York? Because the state is using its own money - not federal funds - it can allow researchers to pay women for new eggs for research and the Dicker-Wicker Amendment does not apply. - RIDGELY OCHS