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US court overturns block to stem cell funding

23 May 2011
Appeared in BioNews 608

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a preliminary injunction banning federal spending on research involving human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) last month.

An injunction, which scientists said would have cancelled a number of existing hESC research experiments, was imposed by District Court Judge Royce Lamberth in August 2010 after two scientists brought a case against the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They argued NIH guidelines expanding hESC research violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a 1996 law barring the use of federal funds for research that destroys embryos.

The decision was appealed and the injunction lifted after only 17 days by the Court of Appeals in Washington while it heard the case. Its majority ruling delivered by a three-judge panel found Judge Lamberth had 'abused [the court's] discretion' when he issued the preliminary injunction.

Judge Douglas Ginsburg gave the majority decision on 29 April. He wrote: 'We conclude the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail because Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and the NIH seems reasonably to have concluded that, although Dickey-Wicker bars funding for the destructive act of deriving an hESC from an embryo, it does not prohibit funding a research project in which an hESC will be used'.

Should an injunction be granted, he said, the effect of researchers would be 'certain and substantial'. 'Their investments in project planning would be a loss, their expenditures for equipment a waste, and their staffs out of a job', he wrote.

The ruling was welcomed by the Obama administration. White House spokesman Nick Papas said: 'Responsible stem cell research has the potential to treat some of our most devastating diseases and conditions and offers hope to families across the country and around the world'.

Dr Francis Collins, director of the NIH also welcomed the news: 'This is a momentous day not only for science but for the hopes of thousands of patients and their families who are relying on NIH-funded scientists to pursue life-saving discoveries and therapies that could come from stem cell research'.

However, dissenting Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson said her colleagues performed 'linguistic jujitsu' to arrive at their conclusion. She wrote: 'Research, then, is the express target of the ban the Congress imposed with respect to the destruction of a human embryo... The Congress... chose broad language with the plain intent to make the ban as complete as possible'.

Dr David Prentice, Senior Fellow for Life Sciences with the Family Research Council, called the decision 'disappointing'. He said: 'Federal taxpayer funds should go towards helping patients first, not unethical experiments. We believe that further court decisions will support congressional protections of young human life and divert federal funds toward lifesaving adult stem cells'.

Professor Hank Greely of Stanford Law School in California, however, said it was unlikely any appeal of the decision would be heard. Furthermore, now the case has returned to Judge Lamberth to decide on the matter, it would be 'much harder' for him to rule against the direction of the appeals court.

'No matter how you look at it, this was a very good day for the human embryonic stem cell research community. The best chance the plaintiffs had was with this panel, and everything from here out is low probability for them', he said.


Court Lets U.S. Resume Paying for Embryo Study
New York Times |  29 May 2011
Federal court rules in favour of embryonic stem cell research
New American |  2 May 2011
Federal money to fund human embryonic stem cell research approved
Catholic Online |  5 May 2011
Good news for embryonic stem cell research
Examiner, Los Angeles |  2 May 2011
Sense on the Stem Cell Front
New York Times |  2 May 2011
Stem Cell Ruling Brings Relief for Now, But Legal Battle Continues
Science |  29 April 2011
US appeals court overthrows stem cell injunction
Nature newsblog |  29 April 2011
19 September 2011 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A new fund to help pay for stem cell research in Scotland has been launched. The UK Stem Cell Foundation (UKSF) will aim to raise £5 million over three years to support the work of researchers and clinicians in Scotland into treatments and cures for illnesses including diabetes, strokes, multiple sclerosis, blindness and Alzheimer's disease...
19 August 2011 - by MacKenna Roberts 
Should human embryonic stem cell research be deemed unethical for its embryo destruction? The US court decision in Sherley v Sebelius on 27 July 2011 to allow federal funding of this research set a global precedent. The meaning of research was divided into two categories: that which directly involves embryo destruction and that which does not...
1 August 2011 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
A District Court judge in the US has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to ban federal funding for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. The decision, by Judge Royce Lambeth, is the latest development in the case of Sherley v Sebelius – a landmark lawsuit filed against the US's state-funded National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2009...
11 July 2011 - by Nisha Satkunarajah 
New legislation to permit federal funds to be used for research on embryos, which would otherwise be destroyed following IVF, will be introduced to the US Congress....
21 March 2011 - by MacKenna Roberts 
The UK Stem Cell Bank (UKSCB) has announced it has forged an affiliation with the recently established University of Massachusetts (UMASS) Human Stem Cell Bank and Registry for the exchange of stem cell technology and expertise. The banks will collaborate on various aspects of stem cell banking, including best practice standards and the delivery of stem cell lines for clinical use...
14 February 2011 - by Leo Perfect 
The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), has opened a stem cell research facility paid for by private and state money approved by Californian voters. As no federal funds were used, researchers can avoid federal funding policy restrictions on human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research....
13 December 2010 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
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....
13 September 2010 - by Dr Megan Allyse 
Have you ever played the children's game Red Light/Green Light? Someone yells 'green light!' and everyone runs as fast as they can (some in circles, but that's not against the rules). When they yell 'red light!', everyone freezes in some contorted position. Playing Red Light/Green Light seems not unlike the experience of conducting embryonic stem cell research in the United States...
13 September 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A federal appeals court in the US has ruled that federal funding for embryonic stem cell research may continue and an injunction placed on the funding by a lower court last month is temporarily suspended...
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