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What happened to the stem cells?
  1. T Hviid Nielsen
  1. Professor Torben Hviid Nielsen, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, PO Box 1096 Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway; t.h.nielsen{at}


Five partly successive and partly overlapping framings have dominated the public debate about human embryonic stem cells since they first were “derived” a decade ago. Geron Corporation staged the initial framings as 1) basic research and 2) medical hope, but these two were immediately refuted and opposed by 3) bioethical concerns, voiced by influential politicians and leaders of opinion. Thereafter, the research community presented adult stem cells and therapeutic cloning as 4) techno-fix solutions supposed to bypass these ethical concerns. And in recent years, 5) institutional limitations to and hurdles within the university–industrial complex (such as patentability, misconduct and fraud) have attracted more attention. The article purifies the arguments and points out the interests and institutions behind the five framings. It also discusses their interplay and finally addresses the question of what happened to the stem cells?

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  • Some of the ideas in this article are discussed in more depth in Torben Hviid Nielsen, Five framings—one entity? The political ethics of human embryonic stem cells, Science Studies 2005;18:30–51.

  • Competing interests: None.

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