Stem cells have moved from biological obscurity to the forefront of political and technological debate in the US and around the world. Investigators are confident that someday stem cells will be the foundation for fantastic cures and therapies. Yet critics argue that stem cell research raises ethical questions no less profound than the pursuit of the nuclear bomb more than 60 years ago.

The complexity of the science and the rapid proliferation of business, ethical and political issues pose a challenge for anyone wishing to stay well informed on this vital subject. This is why we believe that stem cells represent an ideal opportunity for an editorial collaboration between the Financial Times and Scientific American.

This special report draws on the FT's strength in international business and political reporting, which in turn complements Scientific American's long experience in rendering scientific discussions clearly and authoritatively.

It is easy to forget that stem cell research is relatively new. Only in 1998 did scientists first identify and isolate stem cells from human embryos. Today stem cell research has opened a window of opportunity for countries looking to close the customary US lead in biotech. It has reheated discussions of whether and when human rights should inhere in embryos. It has inspired entrepreneurs and spawned new consumer services: prospective parents now routinely receive appeals to freeze the stem cells in their newborns' umbilical cord blood as a hedge against future medical needs.

Such practices have revealed to the public how unsupervised and ethically unguided some practices in fertilisation clinics have been for years. They have provoked a fiscal mutiny of sorts among American states against limitations on federal research funding. They have suggested new forms of fraud: patients in Russia have been victimised by beauty parlours promising that their "stem cell injections" could treat a variety of ills. And, of course, they have raised much technical speculation about the degree of versatility in various types of stem cells and what that may tell us about the latent capabilities of all our tissues.

Virtually no matter touched by stem cells is yet settled. Rather than spelling out final answers, this report should serve as a concise reference on the most important questions to be addressed in the years to come. Both the Financial Times and Scientific American will continue to provide first-rate coverage of the ongoing evolution of these matters--including, one hopes, the eventual news that stem cells have turned into a stable, reliable source of both practical therapies and financial opportunities.

Lionel Barber
US Managing Editor Financial Times

John Rennie
Editor in Chief Scientific American