FAQ about stem cells and regenerative medicine - Public opinion on stem cell research

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What does the public think about stem cell research?

Stem cell research is the subject of much discussion and interest across the world. Newspapers frequently report new discoveries, and this fast-paced field has been the focus of hope, hype and sometimes controversy. Policy makers, regulators, clinicians and scientists are constantly debating the progress and potential applications of this exciting science. But all of us may be affected by the changes in medicine that this research could bring about. Members of the public are vitally important stakeholders – so what do we all really think about stem cells? We’ve collected below a list of some of the most recent research carried out with members of the public in different regions of the world with the aim of answering this question.



Eurobarometer “Biotechnology” survey 2010

A survey carried out by the European Commission covering individuals over 15 years old in each of the member states of the EU revealed:

  • 80% of EU citizens supported embryonic stem cell research (up from 53% in 2005)
  • 84% supported non-embryonic stem cell research (e.g. adult/tissue stem cells)
  • 67% supported research with human embryonic stem cells (up from 41% in 2005)

In response to the statement: “Research involving human embryos should be forbidden, even if this means possible treatments are not available to ill people” it was found that:

  • 50% did not support a ban on human embryonic stem cell research (39% for, 12% don’t know/no response)

Read the full reports:



A telephone survey of 1,006 German citizens on the theme of “Stem Cell Research” was carried out by the market and social research institute TNS Emnid on behalf of the Stem Cell Network North Rhine Westphalia from January 22nd - 23rd 2013.  Key findings included:

  • 92,5% of respondents aware of stem cells
  • 78% opposed to a ban on stem cell research
  • 73.8% support increased funding for stem cell research
  • 83.5% support use of stem cells to treat patients
  • 67.8% support use of tissue stem cells for research
  • 50.5% support use of embryonic stem cells for research

Read more about this research:



Public Attitudes to Science survey 2014

A survey carried out on over 1,700 UK adults aged 16+, conducted on behalf of the UK government, identified:

  • 57% of UK citizens  feel the benefits of stem cell research outweigh any potential risks
  • 90% had heard of “stem cells” but only 34% felt “well-informed” about them

Read the full report: Public Attitudes to Science, Dept. for Business, Innovation and Skills, UK Government, 2014

Wellcome Trust Monitor 2009 and 2012

A survey of both young people (age 14-18) and adults (aged 18+) in the UK was carried out on behalf of the medical research charity and funding agency the Wellcome Trust in 2009 and again in 2012. Regarding stem cells:

  • 26% of the adults questioned and 31% of youths had a “very/good understanding” of stem cells
  • 25% of the adults questioned and 13% of youths felt they understood the potential uses of stem cells

Read the full report: Wellcome Trust Monitor, 2009 and 2012

MRC and BBSRC Stem Cell Dialogue 2008

This study was commissioned by two scientific funding agencies; the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The study used a series of public workshops to explore the opinion towards stem cell research in the UK. This study reported:

  • 22% of participants were familiar with stem cells
  • 80% supported parallel research on adult and embryonic stem cells

Read the full report: Stem Cell Dialogue, MRC and BBSRC, 2008



Meta-analysis of opinion polls in USA

A study published in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine in 2011 reported the results of an analysis of several opinion polls on attitudes of US citizens towards embryonic stem cell research. It should be noted that different polling methods, specific questions and analysis techniques were used in the opinion polls forming the basis of this report. The authors found the following:

  • 62% believe medical research using human embryonic stem cells is acceptable
  • 60% were against a ban on embryonic stem cell research

Read the full report (may require journal subscription): Blendon RJ, Kim MK, Benson JM. The public, political parties, and stem-cell research. N Engl J Med 2011;365:1853-6

VCU Life Sciences Survey 2002-2010

This telephone survey was carried out annually from 2002 to 2010 (except 2009) by the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Roughly 1,000 US citizens (1,000-1,005) were polled on their opinion and support of stem cell research. An analysis of this data identified:

  • An increase in support for embryonic stem cell research from 40% (2002) to 65% (2010)

Read the full analysis: Nisbet M and Markowitz EM, (2014) Understanding Public Opinion in Debates over Biomedical Research: Looking beyond Political Partisanship to Focus on Beliefs about Science and Society. PLoS ONE 9(2)



BBVA Foundation study on Biotechnology

In 2008, the BBVA Foundation, an organisation that promotes research, training and communication of science, carried out a survey in a number of countries in western Europe as well as the USA, Japan and Israel. This face-to-face survey was carried out among 1,500 people in each participating country, and revealed:

  • Globally there is a great disparity in awareness of stem cells - from 33% (Japan) to 86% (Sweden, Denmark) of respondents having heard of stem cells
  • There is a broad consensus that stem cell research is useful
  • Opinion was divided when it came to prioritising medical benefits over the rights of the embryo: people in 6 countries were overall pro-medical, people in 7 countries were more pro-embryo and the public in 2 countries gave medical benefits and protection of the embryo equal priority
  • Acceptance of human embryonic stem cell research was higher when  potential medical benefits were made clear to respondents
  • Across all countries, acceptance was higher for the use of human embryos leftover from fertility treatments, than for the use of embryos created specifically for research

Read the full report: Fundación BBVA, Second BBVA Foundation International Study on Biotechnology, “Attitudes to Stem Cell Research and Hybrid Embryos,” May 2008 (pdf)

Other research on public opinion

If you are aware of further research on public opinion about stem cell research, please do Contact us.

Last updated: 
31 Mar 2014