Stem-Cell Funding Ban Appealed as U.S. Seeks Emergency Order

A court ruling halting federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research was appealed by the Obama administration, which said the ban would cause irreparable harm to researchers, taxpayers and scientific progress.

Justice Department lawyers, in a court filing yesterday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, sought an emergency order to restore government support while a higher court considers its arguments. On Sept. 7, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington rejected the government’s request to reconsider his ruling enforcing the ban pending an appeal.

“Disruption of ongoing research will result in irreparable setbacks and, in many cases, may destroy a project altogether,” attorneys for the U.S. wrote.

Lifting the ban would allow the government to continue funneling tens of millions of dollars to scientists seeking cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, and genetic conditions. Because embryonic stem cells can grow into any kind of tissue, they have the potential to accelerate new treatments.

Lamberth on Aug. 23 issued an order temporarily stopping the Health and Human Services Department and the National Institutes of Health from conducting or funding the stem-cell studies. The judge cited the still-in-force 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment in his ruling, saying that Congress had prohibited funding any research in which a human embryo was destroyed. By implication, that included all stem-cell research, Lamberth said.

Stalled Research

Lamberth’s order will preclude the National Institutes of Health from acting on grant applications that have already been reviewed and considering dozens of other applications that are in the review process, the U.S. wrote in its filing. It could take up to eight months to reinitiate the review process for grant applications, the U.S. said.

One project that may be put on hold by Lamberth’s order is a long-term study of women aimed at finding treatments to infertility and ovarian disorders at the University of California, San Francisco. The study has been under way for four years and current funding runs out next March, said Marcelle Cedars, director of the Center for Reproductive Health.

Cedars submitted an application in July seeking $9 million to $10 million to continue the research for another five years. She was told last week that although only a small portion of the research involves the use of embryonic stem cells, the proposal has been put on hold.

“The whole thing is threatened because a small component makes use of embryonic stem cells,” she said in a phone interview on Aug. 30.

The case is Sherley v. Sebelius, 09-cv-1575, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, and 10-5287, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporters on this story: William McQuillen in Washington at bmcquillen@bloomberg.net.

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