About the Program

The Crossroads of Science, Ethics, Policy, and Law

In 1998, a group of scientists achieved one of the most coveted goals in biology: the isolation of a primitive kind of cell that potentially can make every kind of tissue, including muscle, bone, and brain. The discovery of human embryonic stem cells was hailed as a landmark event, promising insights into and treatments for diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's, and cancer. Stem cell research has since ignited debates ranging from the extension of the human lifespan to abortion, human cloning, "designer babies", and the question of when life begins. These issues challenge us to rethink our obligations to the sick and what it means to be human, and touches upon facets of education, ethics, business, law, and politics. The stakes are high: stem cell research and the drive for cures and therapies touch every American. As a result, policy concerns must be addressed in a setting where all viewpoints can be heard, respected, and debated. Stanford University Program in Stem Cells and Society (PSCS) was founded in 2006 to examine this rich area of science policy. The program is a natural part of Stanford's mission, building upon the University's international reputation and leadership in stem cell biology, medicine, law, and ethics.

PSCS Outcomes

  1. Presentation at national and international conferences such as the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the International Society of Stem Cell Research.
  2. Publication of research in journals, books, and news media (local and national).
  3. Teach and guide the development of secondary and higher education curricula in stem cell biology, policy, and ethics. We will offer a quarter or semester course that can be adapted for high school, including modules for teacher training.
  4. Establishment of the PSCS as a premier resource for the general public and public officials on stem cell science policy through consultation, presentations, a web portal, and daily blogs.

Constituents Served

The PSCS serves:

  1. the biomedical research community by adding to the knowledge base of this growing field
  2. public officials and other policy makers seeking information and/or expertise on stem cell research and therapies
  3. students ranging from high school through adult continuing education

Our Goals

  1. Independent study of the national and international political, legal, ethical, social and economic impacts of stem cell research. Research topics include: ethics and policy of adult stem cells, including cord blood, germ cells and human-animal chimeras; ethics of egg donation; international norms of bioethics; economic impacts; and international, national, state, and local regulatory policy.
  2. Educate and provide outreach to secondary schools, undergraduate and graduate students, and the general public about stem cell research and policy.
  3. Serve as a scholarly resource for academicians, public officials, and the general public on the scientific, legal, and ethical impact and future directions of stem cell research.


  1. Publication of articles, essays, and papers in internationally recognized journals such as Nature, Science, Nature Biotechnology, The American Journal of Bioethics, and major newspapers and magazines.
  2. Participation on state and national stem cell advisory boards, committees, and in national and international conferences.
  3. Release of a popular science book, Stem Cell Now (Penguin), on the scientific, ethical, and political dimensions of stem cell research.
  4. Development of full credit classes in stem cell biology, ethics, and policy for Stanford undergraduate and medical students, and a popular Stanford Continuing Education class for community members, now in its second year.
  5. High school programs on stem cell biology, including Stanford's Medical School 101, an annual event designated to educate teachers and students in the Bay Area on advances in the health sciences.
  6. Featured appearances and recurring coverage in local and national news media.