National Stem Cell Policy Timeline

Since the 1950’s, stem cells have been used in medicine. Congressional involvement in stem cell policy started as early as 1974. This timeline provides policy landmarks affecting the course of stem cell research in the U.S.  

This resource is dedicated to helping students, educators and the general public learn more about exactly what is happening in F  the nation as the public and the government work to make sense of the complicated issue of stem cell research.


Although stem cell research is considered a relatively new area of scientific research, the regenerative capacity of certain cells has been studied since at least 1740.  Abraham Trembley, who is best known for his work with freshwater hydra, studied the amazing regenerative capacity of certain cells as early as 1740.

History of Regeneration Research


Alexander Maximov is sometimes credited with having coined the term “stem cell.”  Maximov, who studied cells in the blood and other tissues coined the phrase “stammzelle,” to refer to the regenerative capacity of certain cells he encountered.


James Till and Ernest McCulloch of the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, through their study of hematopoetic stem cells, were the first to conclusively characterize the existence of stem cells and their functional multipotency. 

Nature 1963


The Supreme Court rules that a fetus does not have the rights of a person in the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade. This decision, in addition to legalizing abortion, also raised issues over research on aborted fetuses. Following Roe v. Wade, the NIH places a moratorium on fetal research until the issue could be considered in greater detail.

Roe v. Wade


Congress established a National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects in Biomedical and Behavioral Research to study fetal research.  The Commission was established under the National Research Act, and a moratorium was placed on fetal research until the commission could report on its findings.

The report


The National Commission returned its recommendation, supporting fetal research for therapeutic purposes.  The Commission stated that fetuses to be aborted must be treated no different from fetuses that were to live. Research could only be done if it posed “minimal risks” to the fetus, which it defined as “not greater in and of themselves than those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests.”


Embryonic stem cells were first isolated by Martin Evans and Matt Kaufman of the University of Cambridge from mouse embryos in 1981.  Their work showed that embryonic stem cells could be harvested and maintained in vitro.


Public law ended funding for fetal research and overturned the “minimal risk standard.” The Department of Human and Health Services (HHS) places a moratorium on fetal tissue research.

January 1993

President Clinton reverses the moratorium on fetal tissue research by executive order and subsequently signs into law The NIH Revitalization Act of 1993.  The NIH appoints its Human Embryo Research Panel.

The NIH Revitalization Act of 1993

September 1994

The NIH’s Human Embryo Research Panel returns its recommendation, suggesting federally funded human embryonic research, but a pre-existing ban on such research is not overturned.


James A. Thomson at the University of Wisconsin is the first to derive and maintain non-human primate ES cells.



Congress passed the Dickey Amendment prohibiting the Department of Health and Health Services from appropriating funds for research where human embryos are destroyed or where embryos are created for research purposes.

October 1995

President Clinton appoints the National Bioethics Advisory Committee (NBAC) to study the issue of human embryonic stem cell research.

November 1998

James A. Thomson at the University of Wisconsin is the first to successfully isolate human embryonic stem cells and create an immortal line of hES cells.


November 1998

John Gearhart at Johns Hopkins University is the first to derive human embryonic germ cell lines from aborted fetuses.

Paper: New Potential for Human Embryonic Stem Cells

January 19, 1999

The National Institute of Health announces that U.S. law does not ban federal support for hES cell research.  While federal funds cannot be used to extract stem cells, federal money can be used for hES cell research.

September 1999

The National Bioethics Advisory Committee returns 13 recommendations to President Clinton, suggesting human embryonic stem cell research be permitted on cadaveric fetal tissue and supernumerary embryos from IVF fertilization.

Text of recommendation available here


The Senate holds a series of hearings on the issue of human embryonic stem cell research based on the recommendations made by the NBAC.

July 2000

Susan Bonner-Weir of Harvard University isolated human adult pancreatic stem cells and coaxs them into producing insulin.

Paper: In vitro cultivation of human islets from expanded ductal tissue

April 2001

In an effort to find new and less invasive methods for extracting stem cells, Patricia Zuk and researchers from UCLA found a way to extract mesenchymal stem cells from adipose tissue.



The NBAC charter ends and President Bush established the President’s Advisory Board to examine the same issues.

August 9, 2001

President Bush makes a statement prohibiting the derivation of hES cells after the date of the announcement and prohibiting therapeutic.  However, Bush accepts the 64 stem cell lines established before the date of the announcement and allocates $250 million towards research on those lines.

January 16, 2002

President Bush established the President’s Council on Bioethics to advise the President on issues concerning biomedical science.

May 2002

Neural stem cells are coaxed into functional neural cells at the Salk Institute by Charles Stevens, Hong-jun Song, and Fred H. Gage.


June 2003

Human embryonic germ cells are used to facilitate motor recovery in rats.


February 12, 2004

Scientists from the Seoul National University announce the successful cloning of human embryos. The research is later revealed to have been faked.

March 3, 2004

Harvard University Professor Douglas Melton announces the creation of 17 new human embryonic stem cell lines created by private funding for research purposes.

Derivation of Embryonic Stem-Cell Lines from Human Blastocysts

June 25, 2004

New Jersey is the first state to explicitly fund human embryonic stem cell research.  The New Jersey Stem Cell Institute is established to regulate grants.

December 6, 2004

California passes Proposition 71 which establishes a constitutional right to conduct stem cell research while prohibiting funding of reproductive cloning.  The Proposition establishes the “California Institute for Regenerative Medicine” which will regulate stem cell research and appropriate funding.

Election information

California Institute for Regenerative Medicine

November 2004

Wisconsin establishes the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery after Governor Jim Doyle announces that the state will provide nearly $750M in public-private investment for biotechnology.  Wisconsin plans on spending $105M over the next 5 years to support hES cell research at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Press release

May 19, 2005

Hwang Yoon-Yuang and his team at Seoul National University report a far more streamlined process for producing viable embryonic stem cells from therapeutic cloning.

NPR News article

February 15, 2005

H.R. 810, the “Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005” was introduced in the House of Representatives, which would amend the Public Health Service Act to allow human embryonic stem cell research.

Bill information

May 24, 2005

The US House of Representatives passes H.R. 810, the “Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005” which would ease the restrictions placed on stem-cell research by President Bush in 2001.

Bill information

May 2005

Connecticut passes Senate Bill 934 allowing human embryonic stem cell research and appropriating $10 million per year for ten years to hES cell research.

March 2005

Massachusetts legislature overwhelming approves Senate Bill 2039 that clarifies state law on research involving human embryonic stem cells and therapeutic cloning and ensures that such research is permitted within a regulatory framework.

May 27, 2005

Governor Mitt Romney vetoes Senate Bill 2039, a bill that would permit stem cell research in Massachusetts.

May 31, 2005

The House and Senate of Massachusetts override Governor Mitt Romney’s veto.

July 12, 2005

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich issued an executive order creating the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute.

July 29, 2005

Senate Majority Leader William H. Frist (R-TN) announces that he favors loosening restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, breaking party line to disagree with President Bush.

November 11, 2005

Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh alerts Science that the landmark papers published by Hwang Yoon-Yuang and his team at the Seoul National University may have serious ethical errors, including the possibility that members of the lab team contributed eggs to the study.

December 15, 2005

Hwang Yoon-Yuang apologizes to the public for serious errors in the paper published by his team in Science.  He steps down as the director of the stem-cell program at Seoul National University and ask that the paper be withdrawn from Science.

NPR News article

April 6, 2006

Maryland passes the Maryland Stem Cell Research Act Governor Robert Ehrlich signs it into law, providing $15 million for embryonic stem cell research grants.

July 2006

Both the Senate and House approve a bill that would significantly increase federal support for embryonic stem cell research.

NY Times News article

July 18, 2006

The US Senate passes the “Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005” (H.R. 810) by a vote of 63-34.  The bill would expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research.

Nature article

July 19, 2006

President Bush uses his veto power for the first time in his presidency to stop the stem cell research bill from becoming law.  The Senate lacks the votes to override the veto.

Presidential News Release

August 23, 2006

Scientists at the company Advanced Cell Technology report a new method for extracting embryonic stem cells from embryos without harming the embryo itself.

NPR News Article

November 2006

Voters in Missouri approve an initiative to change the state constitution so that embryonic stem cell research can continue.

NPR News Article

January 2007

The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 is introduced to the House of Representatives. The bill is a reintroduction of H.R. 810, first passed in 2005 and vetoed by President Bush.

February 28, 2007

Iowa Governor Chet Culver signs into law legislation repealing Iowa’s ban on stem cell research for therapeutic cloning.

April 11, 2007

The U.S. Senate passes a version of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 (H.R. 3) and the bill is returned to the House of Representatives.

March 16, 2007

After approving nearly $45 million for embryonic stem-cell research in February 2007, California’s stem cell agency authorizes another $75.7 million to fund established scientists at 12 non-profit and academic institutions.

California Stem Cell Agency Press Release

June 7, 2007

The House of Representatives passes S.5 Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, sending the bill to the President where it is expected to vetoed.

June 20, 2007

President Bush vetoes the Stem Cell Enhancement Act of 2007. He simultaneously issues an Executive Order requiring federal agencies to pursue alternative avenues of research on pluripotent cells that do not involve the destruction of embryos.

Veto Message to Senate

Executive Order

December 3, 2008

The ISSCR issues new guidelines for the responsible development of stem cell research in the future. These robust guidelines examine how stem cell research ought to be conducted in coming years.

December 13, 2008

The Vatican issues a document detailing its position on a multitude of bioethical issues including stem cell research, reiterating the Catholic church’s position that stem cell research violates the principle that every human life is sacred.

January 23, 2009

The FDA approves world’s first human clinical trial for stem-cell based therapy. The trial, to be conducted by Geron Corporation, is the first of its kind, and will investigate stem cell therapy for spinal cord injury in 10 patients. Please see the following for the company press release.

March 9, 2009

In a monumental moment for stem cell research in the United States, President Barack Obama signs Executive Order 13505, entitled “Removing Barriers to Responsible Research Involving Human Stem Cells.” Obama’s order reverses President Bush’s moratorium on the use of federal funds for human embryonic stem cell research. This action, anticipated by many after Obama’s November win, marks the first time in over eight years where federal funds could be awarded to stem cell research.

July 7, 2009

The NIH published guidelines outlining the policies and procedures for funding of new stem cell research in accordance with President Obama’s Executive Order “Removing Barriers to Responsible Research Involving Human Stem Cells.”

July 15, 2009

The NIH issues a notice providing information about new applications proposing to use hESCs, ongoing NIH research using previously approved hESC lines, and the status of applications previously submitted to NIH proposing to use hESCs.

December 14, 2009

The NIH approves the first set of new stem cell lines now eligible for federal funding. 13 lines are approved with another 20 lines expected to be approved in coming days.

December 16, 2009

The NEJM publishes a letter online, written by researchers from the University of Michigan and abroad, highlighting the lack of genetic diversity in currently available stem cell lines and advocating for efforts to increase the diversity of future lines. The study demonstrated that of the currently available lines, none were from African ancestry, only two were from East Asian descent, and the overwhelming majority were of European or Middle Eastern heritage.