Though there was some evidence of stem cells or ‘special cells’ able to produce other cells as early as the late 1800s, this timeline begins in 1961 with the first published study that accidentally identified cells that are able to renew indefinitely for a variety of uses.
February 1, 1961: Till & McCulloch establish the foundation for stem cell science.
- Toronto scientists Drs. James Till, a biophysicist, and Ernest McCulloch, a haematologist, published accidental findings in “Radiation Research” that proved the existence of stem cells – cells that can self-renew repeatedly for various uses. Both worked for the Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI) at the time.
July 12, 1974: Congress Bans All Federally Funded Fetal Tissue Research
- The 93rd Congress implements a ban on nearly all federally funded fetal tissue research until the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research devises guidelines for it.
July 12, 1974: National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research
- The National Research Act established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to define policy for protection of human subjects during medical and/or scientific experiments.
1975: Ethics Advisory Board Established
- Guidelines establish an Ethics Advisory Board for fetal and fetal tissue research that originate from abortions.
1980: President Reagan Kills Ethics Advisory Board
- President Ronald Reagan decides not to renew the Ethics Advisory Board’s charter. The EAB had recommended federally funded investigations into the safety of in vitro fertilization using human embryos developed in vitro for no more than 14 days, but a de facto moratorium halts federal funding of human embryo research due to the EAB’s disbanding.
1988: Federal Panel Approves Funding of Embryo Research
- Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research Panel reopens the question and votes 18-3 to approve the federal funding of embryo research. Despite this level of support for the research, the Department of Health and Human Services accepts the testimony of three conservative dissenters who argue that embryonic research would lead to an increase in abortions, and in response, extends the moratorium on this research.
1990: President George H.W. Bush Vetos Bill Lifting Moratorium
- Congress attempts to override the moratorium through legislation but President George H.W. Bush vetoes the measure.
1993: President Clinton Executive Order Lifts Moratorium
- HHS Secretary Donna Shalala lifts the moratorium on federal funding of human embryonic research in accordance with President Bill Clinton’s executive order.
1994: President Clinton Reverses Order
- A National Institutes of Health human embryonic researcher panel supports the research but thousands of letters urge President Clinton to reverse his earlier decision. He agrees and federal funding of embryonic research is halted.
1995: Dickey-Wicker Amendment
- Congress bans the federal funding for research on embryos through the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, named after its sponsors Jay Dickey (R-AR) and Roger Wicker (R-MI). The amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for “the creation of human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero.
1998: James Thomson Isolates Human Embryonic Stem Cells
- University of Wisconsin scientist James Thomson isolates human embryonic stem cells and shows their potential to rejuvenate and to specialize into tissues. This discovery also initiates the ethical debate on human embryonic stem cell research because his team derives the stem cells through a process that destroys human embryos.
January 1999: HHS Legal Opinion OKs Research on hESC Lines
- NIH Director Harold Varmus receives a legal opinion from DHHS general council Harriet Rabb. Rabb finds that the Dickey-Wicker amendment does not apply to federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells because the cells do not meet the statutory definition of an embryo. The cells, however, would have to be derived with private funding.
April 1999: Harold Varmus Appoints Oversight Committee
- Harold Varmus appoints an oversight committee to draft guidelines for federally funding embryonic stem cells. The committee includes scientists, clinicians, ethicists, lawyers, patients, and patent advocates.
1999 to 2000: NIH Guidelines and Bush Disapproval
- The NIH develops guidelines for funding human embryonic stem cell research, but presidential candidate George W. Bush declares his opposition to the research in a campaign speech, so the NIH remains cautious about entertaining funding proposals until after the presidential election.
February 2000: Influx of Reponses on Proposed Guidelines
- Over 50,000 responses had been received on the committee’s proposed guidelines.
August 25, 2000: NIH Guidelines for Research Go Into Effect
- NIH Guidelines for Research Using Human Pluripotent Stem Cells are published in the Federal Register over the summer and go into effect. They stipulate: human embryonic stem cells must be derived with private funds from frozen embryos from fertility clinics; they must have been created for fertility treatment purposes; be in excess of the donor’s clinical need; and obtained with the consent of the donor. These guidelines also outlawed the federal funding of stem cells derived from embryos created by SCNT, even if the derivation took place with private funds.
April 2001: Grant Application Review Postponed for Bush Administration
- NIH postpones reviewing grant applications for human embryonic stem cell research in order to give the Bush administration time to review HHS policies.
August 2001: President Bush Prohibits Federal Funding of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research
- President Bush prohibits the federal funding of any research using stem cell lines derived after August 9, 2001, but his policy does not affect research in the private sector or research conducted with state funding. The president claims that more than 60 stem cell lines are available for funding.
January 2004: President’s Council on Bioethic: “Monitoring Stem Cell Research”
- The President’s Council on Bioethics, chaired by Leon Kass, publishes Monitoring Stem Cell Research, a report that contains “no proposed guidelines and regulations, nor indeed any specific recommendations for public policy.” But according to Kass, the overarching goal of the report is “to convey the moral and social importance of the issue at hand and to demonstrate how people of different backgrounds, ethical beliefs, and policy preferences can reason together about it.”
April 26, 2005: National Academies Releases “Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research”
- The National Academies releases its “Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research.” In the news release, committee co-chair Richard O. Hynes explains, “A standard set of requirements for deriving, storing, distributing, and using embryonic stem cell lines – one to which the entire U.S. scientific community adheres- is the best way for this research to move forward.”
May 2005: President’s Council on Bioethics: “Alternative Sources of Pluripotent Stem Cells”
- The President’s Council on Bioethics releases a white paper titled “Alternative Sources of Pluripotent Stem Cells”
December 21, 2006: ISSCR Guidelines
- The International Society for Stem Cell Research releases its “Guidelines for the Conduct of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research.”
April 30, 2007: New NAS Guidelines
- The National Academies releases the 2007 amendments for its guidelines.
June 20, 2007: President Bush Calls for Work on Alternate Sources
- President Bush issues an executive order calling upon the HHS secretary to support and encourage research on alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells. He also requests that the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry be renamed the Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Registry.
November 2007: Yamanaka and Thomson Independently Derive iPS Cells
- Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison both publish papers on their separate discoveries of induced pluripotent stem cells. These pluripotent cells were created from skin cells that had four genes inserted into them with viruses. This procedure resulted in the skin cells acquiring properties similar to embryonic stem cells. Researchers were able to coax these so-called iPS cells into becoming beating heart cells and nerve cells.
May 2008: Report: Only 16 of 21 Lines Eligible for Federally Funding Were Ethically Derived
- Robert Streiffer, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, publishes a paper detailing his investigation into the consent forms for the federally approved human embryonic stem cell lines. Although 21 lines were viable at the time, he discovers that no more than 16 are both viable and ethically derived.
September 5, 2008: NAS Release New Guidelines
- The National Academies releases the 2008 amendments for its guidelines.
December 3, 2008: ISSCR Releases Guidelines for Clinical Translation
- The International Society for Stem Cell Research releases its new Guidelines for the Clinical Translation of Stem Cells
January 20, 2009: New Administration Begins
- Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, having promised to change the current restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research.
March 9, 2009: President Obama Reverses George W. Bush’s 2001 Executive Order
- President Obama Issues Executive Order: Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells
October 11, 2010: Geron Initiates Clinical Trial of Human Embryonic Stem Cell-Based Therapy
- Geron Corporation announced the enrollment of the first patient in the company’s clinical trial of human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, GRNOPC1.
November 22, 2010: Advanced Cell Technology Wins FDA Approval To Test Stem Cell Therapy For Degenerative Eye Disease
- Regenerative medicine company Advanced Cell Technology received federal approval from the US FDA to begin a multi-centre clinical trial that tests human embryonic stem cell treatment on patients with Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, a disease that causes blindness.
January 20, 2011: Stem cell pioneer Ernest McCulloch dies
- Ernest McCulloch, who was part of the team that first proved the existence of stem cells, died at the age of 84 just days before a celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the discovery. The cause of death is unknown. McCulloch was born in Toronto and worked as a lead researcher at the Ontario Cancer Institute and the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto.
July 27, 2011: Suit against federal stem cell research dismissed
- A lawsuit claiming that embryonic stem cell research funded by the National Institutes of Health violated the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law that prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo was thrown out Wednesday, July 27, 2011, allowing for the Obama administration’s funding of embryonic stem cell research to continue on embryos that were culled long ago through private funding. [Source: The Seattle Times]
November 13, 2011: Pope hails potential of adult stem cell research
- Pope Benedict XVI spoke out in favour of adult stem cell research and called for any ensuing treatments to benefit all who need the care regardless of their financial means. [Source: The Australian]
January 25, 2012: Blindness eased by historic stem cell treatment
- Two people with eye degeneration both say their vision improved in the four months after they received implants of retinal pigment epithelial cells made from hESCs (human embryonic stem cells). The treatments were also safe, with no sign that the cells triggered aggressive tumours called teratomas, no sign of immune rejection of the cells, and no inflammation. The procedures were performed by Dr. Robert Lanza, a renowned stem cell scientist from Massachusetts. One of the patients, who suffered from Stargardt disease, had replacement cells made from hESCs injected into one of her eyes and noticed improvement in vision. [Source: NewScientist]
August 24, 2012: Court upholds federal funding of embryonic stem cell research
- A senior US appeals court ruled on August 24, 2012 that the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is legally able to fund research based on human embryonic stem cells. The decision was made by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and upholds a 2011 decision by a lower court, which found that the NIH’s funding of the research was legal despite a 1996 law (Dickey-Wicker Amendment), passed by Congress, which forbids funding research in which human embryos are destroyed. The NIH-supported research uses cell lines derived by destroying day-old embryos. [Source: Nature News Blog]
December 28, 2012: Scientists Create Stem Cells From Urine
- Chinese scientists from the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health have converted cells found in urine into pluripotent stem cells that can be used to create neurons and brain cells. The researchers say the find holds huge potential for the rapid testing and development of new treatments for neuro-degenerative disorders. [Source: Reuters]
June 2013: Pluripotent Stem Cells Derived from Cloned Human Embryos
- Scientists recovered stem cells from cloned human embryos, a longstanding goal that could lead to new treatments for such illnesses as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, using somatic nuclear transfer, or SCNT. [Source: Cell Stem Cell , Volume 12, Issue 6]