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Policy

Stem Cells NIH welcomes dismissal of lawsuit that would stop funding of research

by Britt E. Erickson
August 1, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 31

A federal judge has thrown out a case that in August 2010 briefly shut down government-funded research on human embryonic stem cells and threatened to stop the work altogether. The ruling clears the way for the National Institutes of Health to continue funding the controversial research.

Two scientists filed the lawsuit against NIH, claiming that the agency’s policy violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a law that prohibits federal funding of any research that destroys human embryos. NIH countered that it funds research involving previously derived embryonic stem cells.

Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled last August that the plaintiffs’ argument had merit and issued a preliminary injunction ordering NIH to stop funding human embryonic stem cell research. But a federal appeals court lifted the injunction in April, ruling that the law “does not extend to past actions” (C&EN, May 9, page 12). Saying his hands were tied by the appellate court’s decision, Lamberth dismissed the lawsuit on July 27.

Biomedical researchers and NIH officials were overjoyed by the lawsuit’s dismissal, saying it will allow groundbreaking research that could lead to cures and treatments for numerous diseases.

The litigation, however, is likely to continue. The plaintiffs plan to review all options for an appeal, according to their attorney, Steven H. Aden of the Alliance Defense Fund. “In these tough economic times, it makes no sense for the federal government to use taxpayer money for this illegal and unethical purpose,” Aden says.

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