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This just in: Stem cell research is a go
May 2011
by Amy Swinderman  |  Email the author

April 29 was an exciting day to be in the news business, as the world watched a highly anticipated royal wedding, and an appeals court rendered a verdict in a controversial case invoking the question of whether the United States federal government should provide funding to researchers engaged in human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research.  
The latter announcement is obviously of more interest to our readers, and follows nearly a year's worth of coverage of the Sherley, et al., v. Sebelius, et al., case in ddn's various news vehicles. While it involved no Cartier tiaras or curtsies, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia's ruling crowned the Obama Administration the victor in an ongoing debate over whether the U.S. government should help fund research that involves the destruction of embryos—which the plaintiffs in the case argued is a violation of congressional spending laws.
Specifically, the lead plaintiffs in the case—adult stem cell researchers Dr. James L. Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Dr. Theresa Deisher, research and development director at AVM Biotechnology LLC in Seattle—alleged that an order signed last year by President Barack Obama which lifted a ban on federal funding for hESC research violates the Dickey- Wicker Amendment, a law that prohibits the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from using appropriated funds for the creation of human embryos for research purposes, or for research in which human embryos are destroyed.
The plaintiffs further argues that Obama's order has intensified competition for the limited government dollars, making it more difficult for them to get funding for their own work.
Last August, federal district judge Royce Lamberth, finding merit in these arguments, temporarily brought federal funding for embryo-destructive research to a halt. A month later, the U.S. Court of Appeals temporarily suspended Lamberth's injunction until the case could be decided.  
The most recent decision—which hit newswires just as we put this issue to bed—reversed Lamberth's ruling, saying it would impose a substantial hardship on stem cell researchers who have multi-year projects already underway. The court's 2-1 decision also found that the funding of hESC research is permissible under Dickey-Wicker, as Congress has renewed the amendment every year with the knowledge that it funds such research.  
The White House reacted swiftly to the decision: "Today's ruling is a victory for our scientists and patients around the world who stand to benefit from the groundbreaking medical research they're pursuing," said Nicholas Papas, a White House spokesman. But while the court's decision green-lights once again the use of federal tax dollars for hESC research, it may not be the last word in this contentious debate, as the plaintiffs in the case can both continue their original case before Lamberth as well as appeal this ruling to the full appeals court or to the U.S. Supreme Court.  
Over the summer, in our July, August and September issues, ddn will be taking a closer look at the history of stem cell research, which side researchers and the non-scientific public fall on in this debate and the discoveries being made by companies engaged in hESC research. We will, of course, continue to follow this case, in our special reports as well as on our 24-7 website,, and our blog, We hope you will both enjoy our in-depth coverage and contribute to the conversations that will ultimately result from the impact of the court's decision.



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