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Federal Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research is Safe Again

A federal appeals court has overturned an August ruling barring federal money for research using embryos.
April 29, 2011

In an upswing for scientists studying embryonic stem cells, a federal appeals court announced today that it would set aside a ruling from a lower court last August barring federal funds for the research. As I noted in a story last year, the surprise ruling threw the field into a state of uncertainty–few had even known about the lawsuit, brought by two scientists studying adult stem cells—and brought grant reviews at the nation’s largest funding agency, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to a halt.

According to an article from ABC news on the latest ruling,

The court found that the law–the Dickey-Wicker Amendment enacted in 1996–is “ambiguous” and that the NIH has “reasonably concluded” that while the law bans federal funding for the destructive act of deriving cells from an embryo “it does not prohibit funding a research project in which an hESC will be used.”

“Today’s ruling is a victory for our scientists and patients around the world who stand to benefit from the groundbreaking medical research they’re pursuing,” said Nick Papas, a spokesman for the White House.

…Sam Casey, an attorney representing Sherley and Deisher said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the ruling. He says he is considering whether to appeal the decision to the full court.

“This is a victory not only for the scientists, but for the patients who are waiting for treatments and cures for terrible diseases,” said Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF, in a statement from the university. “This ruling allows critical research to move forward, enabling scientists to compare human embryonic stem cells to other forms of stem cells, such as the cell lines which are derived from skin cells, and to pursue potentially life-saving therapies based on that research.” Kriegstein was one of two University of California scientists to file a Declaration in September 2010 in support of the UC Board of Regents’ motion to intervene in the August lawsuit, Sherley v. Sebelius.

The ruling is a victory for the Obama Administration. Soon after becoming president, Obama had signed an executive order ending a restrictive policy enacted in 2001 by President Bush that had blocked federal funds from being used to study most human embryonic stem cells.

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