Although congressional legislation could quickly slam it shut, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) last week opened the door for U.S. scientists to receive federal funding for research on stem cells from human embryos.
These cells can proliferate indefinitely in lab dishes and mature into all the cell types in the human body, but their source has made them controversial. Still, many scientists argue that the stem cells could treat spinal cord injuries, strokes, and illnesses ranging from diabetes to Parkinson's disease.
Federal laws governing its funding have seemingly prohibited NIH from supporting any research on human embryonic stem cells. Last week, however, NIH walked a legal tightrope by ruling that it now can fund research involving such cells so long as it didn't support the actual creation of the cells.