The center, to be announced April 23 at a scientific conference, could be the largest privately funded American stem cell research project to date, the Boston Sunday Globe reported. President Bush, citing ethical considerations, has limited federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to existing lines of cells.
Harvard issued a statement Sunday confirming its plans, saying the school is "proceeding in the direction of establishing a stem cell institute." Final details are not complete, it said.
"Harvard believes stem cell research is essential in advancing potential treatments for serious human ills. Harvard will continue to work within the laws and regulations in advancing these treatments," the statement read.
Harvard has not decided how much money needs to be raised for the center, said Provost Steven E. Hyman. Scientists involved, however, told the Globe that the fund-raising goal is about $100 million.
"Harvard has the resources, Harvard has the breadth and, frankly, Harvard has the responsibility to take up the slack that the government is leaving," said Dr. George Q. Daley, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital who is involved in planning the center.
The center, tentatively called the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, would bring together researchers from the university and all its affiliated hospitals, the Globe reported.
Stem cells are found in human embryos, umbilical cords and placentas, and develop into the various types of cells that make up the human body. Scientists hope to someday be able to direct stem cells to grow in laboratories into replacement organs and tissues to treat a wide range of diseases, including Parkinson's and diabetes.
But to harvest stem cells, researchers must destroy days-old embryos — a procedure condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, abortion foes and others.
"Every success will change the argument," said Dr. Leonard Zon, a researcher at Children's Hospital and president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. "The American people will not stand for scientists not being able to work on their diseases."
Other American research centers also plan privately funded research. Stanford University announced in 2002 a $12 million donation to study cancer by creating human embryonic stem cell lines. The University of Wisconsin, the University of Minnesota and the University of California at San Francisco also have programs.
In California, activists are pushing a $3 billion ballot initiative to finance the work. And the governor of New Jersey said last week that the state would give Rutgers University $6.5 million to create and study new cell lines.