American Society of Hematology

Victory for Stem Cell Research: Court Rules That NIH Can Continue to Fund Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Published on: August 29, 2012

A federal appeals court on August 24 refused to order the Obama administration and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to stop funding embryonic stem cell research.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld a lower court's dismissal of a lawsuit that challenged federal funding for the research. This is the second time the appeals court has said that the challenged federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was permissible.

The lawsuit was filed in 2009 by two scientists who argued that President Obama's expansion of federally-funded embryonic stem cell research jeopardized their ability to win government funding for research using adult stem cells — ones that have already matured to create specific types of tissues — because it will mean extra competition. The scientists also claimed NIH was violating the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law that prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo.

In the Court's ruling, Chief Judge David B. Sentelle said "Dickey-Wicker permits federal funding of research projects that utilize already-derived ESCs — which are not themselves embryos — because no 'human embryo or embryos are destroyed' in such projects." Adding that the plaintiffs made the same argument the last the time the court reviewed the issue, Judge Sentelle indicated that "unless they have established some 'extraordinary circumstance,' the law of the case is established and we will not revisit the issue." Judge Sentelle also rejected the opponent's two other arguments: that the same federal law prohibits funding for projects where embryos are "knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death," and that NIH issued guidelines on the funding without responding to complaints about the research.

Further appeals in the case are possible, but unlikely.

As a result of the ruling, federal funding will continue to be available for human embryonic stem cell research and additional stem cell lines continue to be approved and added to the NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said in a statement after the decision, "NIH will continue to move forward, conducting and funding research in this very promising area of science. The ruling affirms our commitment to the patients afflicted by diseases that may one day be treatable using the results of this research."

ASH has been an active leader supporting stem cell research. The Society was one of the first physician organizations to support embryonic stem cell research, and ASH has issued a policy in support of all avenues of stem cell research. Earlier in this case, ASH, as a member of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR), the nation's most vocal proponent of the use of regenerative medicine to cure disease, filed an amicus curiae brief in support of continued federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The Society strongly supports federal funding for all avenues of stem cell research under NIH federal research guidelines and with appropriate public oversight.

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