Federal Appeals Court Lifts Ban on Funding for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

May 5, 2011
Amy Ritter

Amy Ritter is Scientific Editor, BioPharm International and Pharmaceutical Technology. Amy Ritter joined the editorial staff of BioPharm International and Pharmaceutical Technology in 2011. She received her BA in Biology from Boston University, and holds a PhD in Neurobiology from SUNY at Stony Brook. Before joining Advanstar’s Pharm Sciences group, she worked in the preclinical pharmacology group at Merck Research Labs, and is the author of numerous peer-reviewed scientific publications.

A federal appeals court has lifted a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

On Apr. 29, 2011, a federal appeals court has lifted a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. The move was celebrated by researchers hoping to use such cells for research, but it is likely that the decision will be appealed. Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent cells derived from embryonic tissue in a process that usually results in the destruction of the embryo. The ban on funding did not apply to stem cells derived from adult tissue.

The case began when a lawsuit was brought against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by Dr. James Sherley and Dr. Theresa Deisher, scientists opposed to embryonic stem cell research.  The scientists cited a 1996 federal law called the Dickey-Wicker Amendment that prohibits funding for "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed." The scientists also claimed that funding embryonic stem cell research hurt their ability to receive federal funding for their own research using adult stem cells. In August 2010, a district court agreed with the plaintiffs that embryonic stem cell research violated federal law and blocked funding, but a three-judge appeals court temporarily lifted the ban in September. The issue is whether that law's restrictions apply to research conducted on stem cell lines that had been developed without federal funding. NIH has interpreted the law narrowly, and argued that creating embryonic stem cells is not the same as using lines created without federal funding for research purposes.  In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court sided with the NIH, finding the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to be “ambiguous”, and the NIH’s interpretation reasonable.

Francis Collins III, director of the NIH, issued this statement: “I am delighted and relieved to learn of the decision of the Court of Appeals. This is a momentous day—not only for science, but for the hopes of thousands of patients and their families who are relying on NIH-funded scientists to pursue life-saving discoveries and therapies that could come from stem cell research.”

Related Content:

Regulatory | Technology