Stem cell research cleared for federal funding

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Scientists have applauded a decision by the US Federal Court of Appeals to overturn an August 2010 ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The ruling has been welcomed by the Obama Administration, which attempted to lift the ban in 2009.

"This is a victory not only for the scientists, but for the patients who are waiting for treatments and cures for terrible diseases,” says Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

"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.

This had argued that when the Obama Administration lifted a ban on such federal funding in March 2009, it had violated the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment which barred using taxpayer funds in research that destroyed embryos.

A District Court judge therefore ordered a temporary ban on the use of federal money for the research until the court battle was resolved.

But the Appeals Court has now ruled that the amendment was 'ambiguous' and that the National Institutes of Health 'seems reasonably to have concluded that although Dickey-Wicker bars funding for the destructive act of deriving an ESC (embryonic stem cell) from an embryo, it does not prohibit funding a research project in which an ESC will be used'.

"This is a victory for the patients around the world suffering from incurable diseases. The time has come for our leaders to put progress before politics on this issue and remove all of the remaining, unnecessary limitations on human embryonic stem cell research conducted with the best ethical and medical practices," says Susan L Solomon, CEO of the New York Stem Cell Foundation.

"We need to put an end to the constant uncertainty facing the field of embryonic stem cell research so scientists can get on with the serious business of research and maintain the kind of momentum that will lead to cures for the most intractable diseases facing mankind."