Science & Tech

NIH resumes funding stem cell research – for now

3 min read

Acts in wake of yesterday’s appellate court decision

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today announced that it is resuming funding embryonic stem cell research.

“We are pleased with the…interim ruling” yesterday by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ” which will allow promising stem cell research to continue while we present further arguments to the Court in the weeks to come,” the announcement states. It continues:

“With the temporary stay in place, NIH has resumed intramural research and will continue
its consideration of grants that were frozen by the preliminary injunction on August 23. The suspension of all grants, contracts, and applications that involve the use of human embryonic stem cells has been temporarily lifted. Human embryonic stem cell research holds the potential for generating profound new insights into disease, cell-based therapeutics, and novel methods of screening for new drugs.”

Yesterday’s appellate court ruling has at least temporarily lifted a lower court ban on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.

However, the court warned that “the purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the merits of the emergency motion for stay and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion.”

Told of yesterday’s court order, Doug Melton, co-director of Harvard’s programs in stem cell science, said “this is terrific news. I realize that this is a temporary order, but I am hopeful that the Court of Appeals understands the enormous potential this research holds, it’s promise for millions of patients, and will allow regular funding of the work to resume.”

The three judges on the appellate panel are all appointees of either President George H. W. Bush or President George W. Bush.

The U.S. Department of Justice is asking the court to lift an injunction issued by Royce C. Lamberth, Chief Judge of the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia, barring all federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.

Supporters of stem cell research, including Harvard President Drew Faust, have said that barring the research will delay the search for cures for a host of illness effecting millions of persons around the globe.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Faust said that “this vital work is now in jeopardy…We hope that the temporary injunction will soon be lifted and that Congress will take the steps necessary to ensure that stem cell scientists can carry on their work vigorously and responsibly, in the interests of the millions of people who may someday enjoy itsbenefits.”

Harvard has joined the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) – a coalition of research universities and patient advocacy groups – in filing an amicus brief in support of the Justice Department’s appeal of the injunction.

The Associated Press quoted Lisa Hughes, president CAMR, as saying that ”it is crucial that federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research be restored permanently and this stay is a step in that direction,” Hughes said in a statement. ”While this issue continues to be argued in the courts, we call on Congress to move swiftly to resolve this issue and secure the future of this important biomedical research.”