Federal Officials Look To Appeal Ruling That Limits Stem Cell Funds
On Tuesday, the Department of Justice said it would appeal a U.S. District Court ruling that challenged the legality of President Obama's executive order allowing federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the New York Times reports (Stolberg/Harris, New York Times, 8/24).
Background on Ruling
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth issued a preliminary injunction against Obama's stem cell policy, also temporarily blocking NIH from providing financial grants for the research under new guidelines by the Obama administration.
In his decision, Lamberth said that Obama's rules violated a 1996 law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which prohibits expending federal funds for "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed" (California Healthline, 8/24).
Administration officials warned that if the ruling is upheld, it could eliminate Obama's executive order and more restrictive rules issued by President George W. Bush.
As a result, the ruling could affect embryonic stem cell research and scientific projects exploring novel approaches to vaccines, viruses and other diseases, because cells used in these types of research often are derived from aborted fetuses or destroyed embryos.
Federal officials said that embryonic stem cell experiments already in progress might continue but that if the ruling is upheld, the government could suspend $54 million in funding for 22 scientific projects by the end of September. Another 60 projects also could be halted (New York Times, 8/24).
A DOJ spokesperson said the department plans to file the appeal by the end of this week (Russonello, Politico, 8/24).
Lawmakers Seek To Overturn Ruling
On Tuesday, several lawmakers echoed the administration's concerns and urged Congress to reconsider previously introduced legislation that would have codified ethical restrictions on stem cell research, CQ Today reports (Ethridge, CQ Today, 8/24).
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) encouraged lawmakers to revive the legislation, which was twice passed by Congress and twice vetoed by President George W. Bush.
The measure has broad Democratic support and is backed by several Republicans. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that the issue "is very open to a legislative solution" (New York Times, 8/24).
Meanwhile, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) scheduled a hearing for Sept. 16 to examine federal funding for stem cell research (CQ Today, 8/24).
Scientific Community Reacts to Ruling
NIH has said that it will cease review of new and renewable grant proposals that involve stem cells, possibly forcing laboratories nationwide to refocus their studies or seek funding from private sources, the Los Angeles Times reports.
If the ruling stands, funding for embryonic stem cell research could be eliminated within the next month. As a result, scientists conducting studies using NIH grants have said they plan to redirect their awards toward other research not affected by Monday's ruling.
For example, researchers at the UCLA's Broad Stem Cell Research Center are considering diverting funds from their project studying embryonic stem cell-based blood and immune system cells to one involving induced pluripotent stem cells, which are not developed from embryos.
Other scientists have said they intend to speed up their work to use the NIH funding before it is frozen (Kaplan, Los Angeles Times, 8/24). In addition, other project leaders have said they plan to seek out donations from private sources to fund embryonic stem cell research (Johnson, Boston Globe, 8/25).
New York Times Editorial Admonishes Ruling
The District Court judge's ruling temporarily banning federal funding for embryonic stem cell research was a "huge overreach" and "will be a serious blow to medical research," as it will bar funding for research that could "lead to cures for devastating ailments," a New York Times editorial states.
The editorial continues that DOJ "should quickly press its appeal" and that Congress should "settle this issue once and for all -- by passing legislation that ensures continued federal funding to support research on stem cells derived from human embryos" (New York Times, 8/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.