Harvard Plans Center to Grow Stem Cells

March 1, 2004

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 29 (AP) - Harvard plans to open a multimillion-dollar center to grow and study human embryonic stem cells, officials announced on Sunday.

The center could be the largest privately financed stem cell research project in the country. It must use private money to create new lines of stem cells because President Bush, citing ethical considerations, limited federal financing for such research to existing lines of cells.

After The Boston Globe reported the plans on Sunday, Harvard released a statement saying it was "proceeding in the direction of establishing a stem cell institute." The final details are not complete, the statement said.

"Throughout the Harvard system, we have scientists working on different aspects of stem cells," said Dr. Steven E. Hyman, the provost. "The goal here is to bring them together to create a very strong effort."

Harvard has not determined how much money needs to be raised for the center, Dr. Hyman said.

The center, to be tentatively called the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, would bring together researchers from the university and its affiliated hospitals. About 20 researchers are now working on planning for the center, Dr. Hyman said.

Stem cells are found in human embryos, umbilical cords and placentas and develop into the different types of cells that make up the human body. Scientists hope to someday be able to direct stem cells to grow into replacement organs and tissues to treat a wide range of diseases, including Parkinson's and diabetes.

But to harvest stem cells, researchers must destroy days-old embryos, a procedure condemned by some religious groups, opponents of abortion and others.

"Every success will change the argument," said Dr. Leonard I. Zon, a researcher at Children's Hospital Boston and president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. "The American people will not stand for scientists not being able to work on their diseases."

Dr. Hyman said the Harvard researchers were taking concerns about the use of human stem cells into consideration.

"We've already begun to engage people in the nonscience community to help us address ethical and social issues," he said.