A company that said it had developed a less controversial way to produce human embryonic stem cells and an academic institute that also makes stem cells announced on Tuesday they would team up to distribute the valued cells.
The WiCell Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin and California- and Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology said they would work together to give batches of the cells to researchers, provided the federal government agrees to fund them.
Advanced Cell researchers previously said they had found a way to take a single cell from very young embryos and grow that into a batch of stem cells, leaving the embryo intact. They offer it as a way around an impasse surrounding stem cell research.
Human embryonic stem cells are the body's master cells, formed a few days after conception, when the embryo is still a ball of cells. Some researchers want to work with them to learn the secrets of development, disease and perhaps to transform medical treatments.
Opponents believe it is wrong to experiment on or destroy human embryos. The federal government severely limits funding for such research, although it is legal. President George W. Bush vetoed a bill to widen funding in July.
WiCell said more than 350 academic research groups are working with its human embryonic stem cells, but scientists say they need more to learn what they need to.
"Under their collaboration, agreed in principle between the parties, Advanced Cell Technology and WiCell hope to make the new stem cell lines readily available to U.S. scientists for medical research," the two groups said in a statement.
"Provided that the federal government is willing to fund future human embryonic stem cell research where it can be demonstrated that the embryo was not harmed, we will do our part in scaling up many new lines ... and making such lines available," said William Caldwell, chief executive officer of Advanced Cell Technology.
But opponents of human embryonic stem cell research have said they had reservations about the method the company had devised, and even some supporters of the research have expressed doubts.
The White House has not said whether the method should be eligible for federal funding.
This week, Abdallah Daar of the University of Toronto and colleagues published a survey of 44 experts ranking all the possible uses for stem cells in order of promise or proven efficacy, including adult stem cells found throughout the body.
First came replacing insulin-producing cells to treat diabetes. Second came regenerating failed heart muscle using a patient's own cells -- an approach that has shown some promise in experiments, they reported in the online journal Public Library of Science-Medicine.
Other uses included enhancing the immune system, using the cells to vaccinate people more effectively and the replacement of skin damaged by burns, wounds and diabetic ulcers.