Under the Bush Administration, only embryonic stem cell lines derived before 9 pm, Aug. 9, 2001, could receive federal funding. Only two dozen lines qualified. As of result, many scientists conducting stem cell research, wanting federal funding, chose to use the limited pool. These lines continue to be in use today, with many at the heart of multithousand dollar, stem cell research programs. Alternatively, scientists had the option to derive stem cells in the U.S. using state or private funding, or to completely derive the lines outside of the country.
Aside from what lines could and could not be used, regulations governing human embryonic stem cell research are limited.
Earlier lines were derived under Institutional Review Board supervision, following ethical guidelines then in place, suggested by such organizations as the National Academies of Science, or covered by state regulations like those of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). –John M. Simpson, Stem Cell Project Director, Consumer Watchdog
On Mar. 9, 2009, President Obama signed an executive order that would lift the “Aug. 9, 2001” federal funding restrictions and incorporate a technical standard of use for stem cells. Developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the proposed regulations are "to help ensure that NIH-funded research in this area is ethically responsible, scientifically worthy, and conducted in accordance with applicable law."
The NIH regulations, applicable to all stem cell lines, are stricter than those that are currently in place. The 20 federally funded, embryonic stem cell lines include those that do not meet the NIH minimum requirements.
If the executive order is placed into effect, currently funded stem cell lines will no longer be eligible for federal funding, according to Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group.
It would be wrong to preclude them from federal funding going forward. You can’t hold someone to standards that didn’t exist when these lines were derived in good faith according to then existing standards. –Simpson
The NIH regulations are in a draft stage, currently open for public comment until May 26, 2009.