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US stem cell funding saga rumbles on

13 December 2010
Appeared in BioNews 588

The US courts are currently attempting to decide whether human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research may continue to receive federal funding, after a lawsuit was brought against the US Government last year.

The US Government, under George W Bush, restricted such research to twenty already established hESC cell lines. This restriction was reversed by the Obama administration in 2009, allowing research to continue on multiple hESC lines so long as the private sector provided the stem cells and the National Institute of Health (NIH) issued new guidelines. In 2010, the NIH spent $200 million on hESC related research. Since 2002, the US government has similarly spent $546 million.

In 2009, two scientists - James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, who both work on adult stem cell research - filed a lawsuit against the US government for offering federal funding to hESC research. They said this leaves less funding for their work on adult stem cells. Federal district judge Royce Lambert agreed that the research was illegal and put an injunction against further research. The judiciary allowed research to continue while an appeal against that injunction was heard by three judges at the US Courts of Appeal for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Sherley and Deisher's lawyer, Thomas Hunger, said that the funding is in contravention of the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which requires that no federal funding go towards the destruction of human embryos. He argued that even if the researchers themselves don't destroy embryos, the fact that they purchase the embryonic cells for their federally funded research incentives the private sector to destroy embryos to provide them with the hESCs they want.

Beth Brinkmann from the Justice Department, said that there was a distinction between the research and the production of these cell lines. Disagreeing, Judge Douglas Ginsburg said: 'There's research into making laboratory equipmentand then there's research into using laboratory equipment'. No matter who wins this round, the losing side will almost certainly appeal, and experts believe this will lead to the issue being debated by the Supreme Court.

 

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Appeals Court Tackles Stem-Cell Dispute .
Wall Street Journal |  6 December 2010
Key oral arguments made in stem cell case
The Great Beyond |  6 December 2010
Stem Cell Funding Has Day in Court
ScienceInsider |  6 December 2010
U.S. Stem-Cell Research Attacked in Appeals Court
Businessweek |  6 December 2010
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