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Policy

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Stem Cell Case

High court ends lawsuit against federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research

by Britt E. Erickson
January 10, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 2

Federally funded human embryonic stem cell research can move ahead unimpeded because of a Supreme Court decision announced last week. The Court declined to hear a case, which has dragged on for more than three years, challenging the legality of such stem cell research funding.

The original lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health was filed in 2009 by two scientists who work with adult stem cells. They claimed that the agency’s policy for funding human embryonic stem cell research violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, an obscure law that prohibits federal funding of any research that destroys human embryos. Human embryos are destroyed in order to derive such stem cells.

In 2010, the case temporarily halted government-funded research on human embryonic stem cells. A federal appeals court lifted the injunction, however, and subsequently ruled that conducting research on these cells is not the same as deriving them. The plaintiffs appealed to the high court last October.

Biomedical researchers and NIH officials welcome the justices’ decision to reject the case. “Patients and their families who look forward to new therapies to replace cells lost by disease or injury, or who may benefit from new drugs identified by screening using stem cells, should be reassured that NIH will continue supporting this promising research,” says NIH Director Francis S. Collins.

Bernard Siegel, spokesman for the Stem Cell Action Coalition, an advocacy group for stem cell research, calls the decision “a major victory for scientifically and ethically responsible innovative research.” But at the same time, he says, “we must remain vigilant against threats at state and other policy-making levels.”

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