To treat diabetes, the scientists will have to isolate stem cells that can generate the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, he said. Scientists will also study how to correct genetic defects so the transplanted cells do not trigger the same disorder.
Melton said he does not know how many women will volunteer to donate eggs.
"Women who are members of families affected or afflicted with particular diseases might step forward," he said. "Or it might be an entirely different group of women who might participate." The donors would be compensated for their time, transportation and medical expenses, but would not be paid enough to profit, he said.
Dr. Kevin Eggan plans to work with Melton on diabetes, as well as focusing on neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Meanwhile, Daley plans to study sickle-cell anemia and various bone marrow disorders.
Ultimately, Daley plans to take skin biopsies from children suffering such disorders and implant their DNA into eggs that didn't fertilize at a Boston in-vitro fertilization clinic.
Dr. John Gearhart, who heads the cell engineering institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said one of the chief benefits of the research would be the ability to study the underpinnings of disease.
"You'd have an ALS patient and the whole medical history of that patient, and an embryonic stem cell line from that patient," he said. Scientists, in effect, would be able to study the processes that went awry when the patient was just a collection of cells.
He said Hopkins is not planning to produce cloned embryos anytime soon, and he doesn't expect many additional academic centers to become involved until a few groups have succeeded at some level.
For now, Hopkins plans to generate stem cell lines from regular (rather than cloned) embryos, from which much still needs to be learned, he added. Earlier this year, the Maryland General Assembly enacted legislation providing $15 million for stem cell research, including some that might not qualify for federal money.
"We've still got to demonstrate that we can generate cells that are effective and safe," Gearhart said. "We have a tremendous amount of work to do."