Volume 88 Issue 37 | p. 6 | News of The Week
Issue Date: September 10, 2010

Appeals Court Lifts Stem Cell Injunction

Ruling: Federal funding can resume for now
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: NIH, stem cell research
Credit: U.S. District Court
Credit: U.S. District Court

In a move that caught many people by surprise, a federal appeals court on Sept. 9 lifted an injunction that prohibited the National Institutes of Health from funding human embryonic stem cell research. The court granted a request from the Justice Department to lift the injunction while a lawsuit opposing this type of stem cell research is being litigated.

The lawsuit was filed by two researchers who claim that NIH’s stem cell policy violates a law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. That law prohibits federal funding of any research that destroys human embryos. On Aug. 23, Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction in the case, ordering NIH to halt funding for all human embryonic stem cell research until the lawsuit is resolved (C&EN, Aug. 30, page 4).

Several scientists and government lawyers spoke out about the dire consequences of the injunction, claiming that it will terminate many stem cell research projects and stall new treatments for diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and other diseases. “The injunction threatens to stop progress in one of the most encouraging areas of biomedical research, just as scientists are gaining momentum—and squander the investment we have already made,” NIH Director Francis S. Collins said in a statement on Aug. 26. NIH has spent more than $546 million on human embryonic stem cell research since 2001, Collins noted.

Nonetheless, Lamberth was not convinced that his injunction would cause major disruption. “Defendants are incorrect about much of their ‘parade of horribles’ that will supposedly result from this Court’s preliminary injunction,” he wrote in a decision on Sept. 7. But just two days later, the appeals court reversed Lamberth’s decision.

Many supporters of stem cell research called the appeals court ruling a victory. “It is crucial that federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research be restored permanently, and this stay is a step in that direction,” Lisa Hughes, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said in a statement. She urged Congress to “move swiftly to resolve this issue and secure the future of this important biomedical research.”

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