Around the globe, stem cell research has met with reactions varying from enthusiasm (as in the UK) to suspicion and distaste. Despite increasingly permissive international laws, no consensus on supporting the research has emerged, even among the selection of "stem cell progressive" countries considered here. The US government, for example, provides an enormous sum ($550m) for stem cell investigations by global standards, but the portion for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) studies ($24m) is only slightly above the spending by countries with much smaller budgets where investments go farther.

Nations also differ on how much regulatory control they choose to exercise. Some have laws that specifi cally permit or prohibit certain practices associated with hESC work, such as therapeutic cloning, but others keep such experiments in a legal limbo. Critics have raised concerns about the inconsistency of the resulting systems: one scientist notes that EU funding has created a "bizarre situation" in Germany, where scientists can apply for projects that are officially deemed illegal. (Funding figures represent estimates of the current annual spending in US dollars on all types of human stem cell research, except where noted.)


EU
  • Production of new hESC lines: Permitted from unused IVF embryos where legal in member nations
  • Therapeutic cloning: Prohibited
  • Funding: $170m on stem cells over the past three years (only $650,000 for hESC research)
  • Status in some member nations:
    France: Creation of hESC lines from IVF embryos legal as of October 2004; public funding is $4m
    Germany: Only work on hESC lines predating 2002 is legal; public funding is $4m
    Finland: Permits research with IVF embryos; public funding is $5m
    Italy: June 12 referendum will consider permitting IVF embryo research; public funding is $6m

    EU will not increase funding for hESC projects despite a doubling of the total research budget.


SWEDEN
  • Number of published hESC lines: 8
  • Production of new lines: Legal
  • Therapeutic cloning:Legal as of April
  • Number of researchers: 400
  • Government funding: $10m-$15m
  • Private funding: Cellartis and NeuroNova, the two largest stem cell research companies in Sweden, contribute the bulk of the $35m spent annually there

    Cellartis, the single largest source of defined hESC lines in the world, maintains more than 30--two of which are approved by the US National Institutes of Health.


UK
  • Number of published hESC lines: 3
  • Production of new lines: Legal
  • Therapeutic cloning: Legal
  • Government funding: About $80m
  • Private funding: $15m-$20m

    The Wellcome Trust alone has spent $12m annually since 2002.

    First licence for human ES cell research was granted in 1996.

    The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 allows the UK to fund hESC research flexibly.

    UK's first licence for human cloning research granted in 2004. Its recipients in May announced the country's first cloned human embryo.


US
  • Number of published hESC lines: 46
  • Production of new lines: Legal, but prohibited with federal funds
  • Therapeutic cloning: Legality varies from state to state
  • Federal government funding: About $550m for all stem cell research ($24m for hESC)
  • Private funding: About $200m
  • Public funding at state level:
    California: $3bn over 10 years
    New Jersey: $11.5m (another $380m proposed)
    Wisconsin: $375m proposed
    Illinois: $1bn proposed
    Connecticut: $20m proposed

    Federal government allows its funds to be used only on the 22 available hESC lines created before August 2001.

    Pending legislation would relax some of these federal restrictions.


BRAZIL
  • Production of new hESC lines: As of March, legal from IVF embryos at least 3 years old
  • Therapeutic cloning: Banned
  • Government funding: $4.5m annually planned, allocated by the Health Ministry and the Science and Technology Ministry


SOUTH KOREA
  • Number of published hESC lines: 29
  • Production of new lines: Permitted with case approval from Ministry of Health
  • Therapeutic cloning: Permitted with case approval from Ministry of Health
  • Number of researchers: 300-400
  • Government funding: About $10m
  • Private funding: About $50m

    First to create a hESC line from a cloned embryo. In May the same researchers announced that they had created 11 new hESC lines cloned from patients with spinal cord injuries, juvenile diabetes and a blood disorder.


SINGAPORE
  • Number of published hESC lines: 1
  • Production of new lines: Legal, if embryos are destroyed within 14 days
  • Therapeutic cloning: Legal, as above
  • Number of researchers: About 150, in industrial and academic settings
  • Academic spending: About $10m, from public and private sources
  • Industrial spending: About $10 million

    A pending government proposal would spend $60m over the next four years.


ISRAEL
  • Number of published hESC lines: 1
  • Production of new lines: Legal
  • Therapeutic cloning: Legal
  • Government spending: About $5m
  • Private spending: $15m-$30m

    Israeli scientists led one of the research teams that first isolated hES cells. They were also the first to show that hES cells could be changed into heart cells, and to show that hES cells can integrate with tissues.


CHINA
  • Production of new hESC lines: Legal
  • Therapeutic cloning: Legal
  • Number of researchers: 300-400
  • Public and private funding: About $40m

    The journal Nature reports that "China has probably the most liberal environment for embryo research in the world", with little public opposition to such studies. No laws govern stem cell research, but the recommendations of the Ministry of Health endorse it.


AUSTRALIA
  • Number of published hESC lines: 1
  • Production of new lines: Conditionally legal
  • Therapeutic cloning: Banned
  • Number of researchers: 200-250
  • Government funding: The Australian Stem Cell Centre has $90m to spend through 2011.