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A news story is only as good as its sources
November 2011
by Amy Swinderman  |  Email the author
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'Tis the season to give thanks for the blessings in your life, so this month, I would like to use this space to express my gratitude to a few individuals who have made my job both interesting and pleasant this year. More importantly, they have helped to make the content of this publication more complete, balanced and intriguing.
 
For more than two years, Drug Discovery News has closely followed the complex legal trajectory of Sherley v. Sebelius, a controversial lawsuit in which a group of plaintiffs—led by two adult stem cell researchers—are challenging the legality of government funding for research of human embryonic stem cells (hESC). This month, we bring you up to date on the latest news in the suit (See "If at first you don't succeed …"), which is that the plaintiffs have appealed the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia's July dismissal of the case.
 
The fate of the case and its impact on hESC research in the United States is expected to eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court—so we'll be reporting on it for some time to come. Throughout the lawsuit's long and complicated journey through the courts thus far, our coverage has been marked by rare and gracious access to the plaintiffs in the case, who have surely been inundated with media requests and found themselves in a position to defend what are some strong views on hESC research—the way it is performed, how it should be funded, its moral implications and the scientific possibilities it holds.  
 
At the top of 2011, the lead plaintiffs in the suit, 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, granted us an exclusive interview about the case and their opinions about hESC research. This summer, Deisher also lent her voice to an editorial roundtable about stem cell research as part of our three-part feature series on the subject.  
 
This month, our coverage continues with an interview with Samuel Casey, managing director and general counsel for the Law of Life Project, the firm representing the plaintiffs. The Law of Life Project, Casey explains, is a public interest legal organization "dedicated to legally defending the right to life and dignity of the human being from biological conception until natural death in all matters worldwide where such a defense is required." Casey and the organization have been working for many years to bring attention to what they consider to be serious flaws in the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a 15-year-old piece of legislation that has created confusion and debate about the government's role in providing funding for hESC research.  
 
Casey was generous with what I am certain is his very limited time these days. He not only shared with me a complete legislative and legal history of hESC research, but he was also quite candid and clear about his strong beliefs on the matter.
 
"This is a case where the will of Congress is clear, but ambiguity has been created by a government agency to get around Congress," he says.  
 
In Casey's view, although those in favor of hESC research claim it holds the promise for potential cures or treatments for difficult-to-treat conditions and diseases, he argues that "America has the responsibility to chase therapies where they really are."  
 
"The NIH is not in the basic research game," he says. "It exists to find human therapies. There may be some important basic research breakthroughs, but those can be handled without taxpayer money. This has been the biggest, most expensive, most wasteful scientific funding football of the last decade. I am sorry that the courts and judges in this case have found that this is not clear."  
 
When covering any legal battle—especially a case as controversial as this one—it's quite rare that the media has the opportunity to speak to the parties involved. On the occasions we do, we're usually given bland, noncommittal "formal statements." That hasn't been the case here. We thank the plaintiffs and their representatives in this case for their time and candor, and we look forward to their continued discussion of the case as it proceeds.

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