Stem Cell Research

Trends and perspectives on the evolving international landscape

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Stem cell research holds a great potential to revolutionize healthcare. Great hope is invested in this field to deliver new treatments for many serious conditions for which few effective treatments currently exist.

Some basic research findings are being translated into new treatments, and with the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells in 2006, the field has seen a step-change in biological understanding that will affect the way new drugs are identified and tested, and potentially, the way cells can be generated in the lab. While the field attracted priority status in many countries, it has always been exposed to continuous discussion on ethics and regulation which greatly impacts the direction of each nation.

This report, Stem Cell Research: Trends and perspectives on the evolving international landscape, was jointly prepared by Elsevier, EuroStemCell and Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) and has been discussed at the World Stem Cell Summit 2013. Using publication data based on Scopus® the report analyzes the growth and development of the stem cell field as a whole, then more closely examines embryonic stem (ES) cell and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell research outputs.

In order to provide a broad and transparent data driven view of the field, the study reviewed leading nations’ research output, citation impact and collaboration behavior, as well as assessing various countries’ differences in focus and its growth.

Key Findings

The rapidly growing field of stem cell research

Research in the field has grown and changed remarkably. Stem cells publication output has grown relatively quickly, at compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.0% between 2008 and 2012, which is more than double the rate of total world publications (2.9%) during the same period. However, this increase is not uniform across all stem cell research areas. The ES cell and human embryonic stem (hES) cell fields have grown more slowly than the stem cell field overall (with a CAGR of 4.9% and 5.1% respectively, during the 2008 to 2012 period. In contrast, the emerging field of iPS cell research has grown rapidly, from 108 papers in 2008 to 1,061 in 2012, representing a CAGR of 77%.   

Number of Publications

Figure 1: Global publication count. Graph shows data for all stem cells (Stem Cells), ES cells (all organisms; ESCs), hES cells (hESCs), and iPS cells (iPSCs) from 1996-2012. Source: Scopus 

Stem cell publications are highly cited

The field as a whole has attracted considerable attention within the scientific community: stem cell research showed an overall field-weighted citation impact (FWCI) of approximately 1.5 (2008-2012), indicating that stem cell publications, on average, were cited 50% more than the world average for all related subject areas. ES cell publications maintained a citation impact of above 1.80 (2008-2012), while the hES cell citation impact declined marginally from 2.35 in 2008 to 2.08 in 2012. The emerging field of iPS cell research showed the highest impact within the stem cell field, with a FWCI of 2.93 (2008-2012).   

Citation Impact of Stem Cells

Figure 2: The FWCI of publications on stem cells overall and by cell type from 2008-2012. The pale blue line represents the global average citation impact for all publications in the various subject areas assigned to the journals in which stem cell papers are published. Source: Scopus 

Singapore, Italy, the USA, Japan, and Israel show the highest activity levels in stem cell research

While the USA and China produced the highest volume of research, a number of countries showed higher levels of relative activity, a measure that relates country output levels to global activity level. Countries with the highest relative activity levels in stem cell research were: Singapore (1.8 times the global level), Italy (1.65 times the global level), the USA (1.61 times the global level), Japan (1.53 times the global level), and Israel (1.52 times the global level).   

Stem Cells and Themes 2008-2012

Figure 8.0: World publication output, FWCI, and CAGR from 2008 to 2012 for stem cell research overall, by cell type, and by thematic alignment (regenerative medicine [RegMed] and drug development [DrugDev], excluding hES). Bubble size represents number of publications, the x-axis represents the FWCI of those publications, and the y-axis represents the CAGR. The same publication may be represented in more than one bubble. Source: Scopus


Approximately half of all stem cell papers use keywords related to “drug development” or “regenerative medicine”

Reflecting the field’s ongoing development and clinical promise, 47% of stem cell publications used keywords related to regenerative medicine, while 2% used keywords related to drug development. However, iPS cell publications featured drug development more prominently (in 11% of iPS cell publications). The use of keywords related to “drug development” was also associated with higher citation impact.   

Relative Activity Stem Cells, All

Figure 12.1–12.4: Stem cell research activity by country and cell type from 2008 to 2012, relative to the global average. Global activity level has been indexed to a value of 1.00. Source: Scopus


“Society has high expectations toward stem cell research. I hope society will be tolerant enough to support and nurture an atmosphere where challenge is welcomed. Not all research always sees its light, and there are countless errors behind the scenes. Science builds upon the footprints of other researchers, and encouraging challenge is what strengthens the research power of a nation as a whole...In translational research, scientists are there to provide evidence to inform risks. It’s then for society to judge whether that should be brought to the clinic.”
— Akihiro Umezawa, Deputy Director, Research Institute, National Center for Child Health and Development. 


View a series of one-minute videos to introduce basic concepts in stem cell research.

Stem Cells Short Animated videos introduce stem cell science in one-minute bursts
By Lisa Willemse | Posted on 27 Sep 2013
StemCellShorts – created by young Canadian researchers – are narrated by renowned scientists
What is an Embryonic Stem Cell minute video - What are embryonic stem cells?
By Ben Paylor and Mike Long, PhD | Posted on 14 Oct 2013
Animated shorts are created by young Canadian researchers and narrated by renowned scientists
Induced Pluripotent Stemcells 1-minute animation: What are induced pluripotent stem cells?
By Ben Paylor and Mike Long, PhD | Posted on 25 Oct 2013
Animated shorts are created by young Canadian researchers and narrated by renowned scientists 

Find out more

Download the report, Stem Cell Research: Trends and perspectives on the evolving international landscape, to find out more about output, growth and impact by each cell type, and to understand each country’s activities and the field’s international collaboration landscape. (Released on December 4th, 2013)

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Featured Initiative

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Stem Cell Research - Trends & perspectives on the evolving international landscape.

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