Appeals court grants stay in stem cell case

The federal government will be allowed to keep funding stem cell research — for now.

An Aug. 23 ruling by a U.S. District Court judge barred federal funding of such research until an appeals court granted a stay Thursday that will allow the government to provide money until the case is heard before a federal appeals court, a process that could take several months.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth cited the Dickey-Webber amendment, a federal law that prohibits the use of federal funding for any research in which human embryos may be destroyed.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins said in a statement after the initial ruling that the freezing of federal funding greatly threatens current research.

“(The ruling) could cause irreparable damage and delay potential breakthroughs to improve care for people living with serious diseases and conditions such as spinal cord injury, diabetes or Parkinson’s disease,” Collins said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges echoed the NIH’s concern about the ruling, Senior Director for Scientific Affairs Tony Mazzaschi said.

“It’s not just the medical researchers on the NIH campus that are affected,” Mazzaschi said in an interview last week. “This ruling could affect all aspects of embryonic research.”

The AAMC also believes Lambert made a bad decision since embryonic research holds the promise of providing cures for currently untreatable diseases, Mazzaschi said.

“We think the judges decision was ill considered since we support this research,” Mazzaschi said. “We think this research and all embryonic research offers great promise for progress and in the potential to eliminate certain disabilities and diseases.”

In a news release, the AAMC condemned the district court ruling, citing the potential behind any results produced by stem cell research.

“Embryonic stem cell research holds enormous potential for developing treatments and cures for numerous chronic and fatal diseases,” the release stated. “With scientists across the nation positioned to make dramatic advances funded substantially by the National Institutes of Health, this judicial action is particularly disappointing.”

Organizations such as the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures are also concerned with the impact the ruling could have on stem cell research.

“This remains an open case but it worries us,” spokesman Jim Goodwin said. “What’s at stake is the loss of research and the search for cures that has been delayed for those suffering from spinal cord injuries, diabetes and other diseases.”

The injunction also affects universities and professors who are conducting research with stem cells such as MU professor Michael Roberts.

Roberts has been leading the university’s embryonic stem cell research since 2003, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He and other professors would have to rely on private funding to continue research unless the ruling is overturned.

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