Stem-Cell Funding Should Be Allowed, U.S. Tells Court

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Stem-Cell Funding Should Be Allowed
A group of scientists who oppose embryonic stem cell research funding filed court papers Oct. 28 claiming it is illegal and should be barred. Photographer: Noah Berger/Bloomberg

A judge’s ban on funding for embryonic stem cell research misconstrues the law, the federal government told a U.S. appeals court in an effort to restore funding for the research to proceed.

The National Institutes of Health has interpreted guidelines as allowing funding for the research, while Congress has been “making plain that it allows funding” for the research, government lawyers wrote in a brief filed today with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.

“Plaintiffs argue that this court should ignore the clear intent of Congress,” the U.S. wrote in the filing.

The appeals court in September put on hold a lower-court ruling that cut off funding for embryonic stem-cell research after the government argued that it would harm researchers, taxpayers and scientific progress. The appellate court said the funding could continue during the appeal.

Lifting the ban allowed the government to temporarily continue directing tens of millions of dollars to scientists seeking cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries and genetic conditions. Embryonic stem cells can grow into any kind of tissue. Adult stem cells, found in mature tissue, are more limited in their ability to differentiate into other cell types.

‘Illegal Competition’

A group of scientists who oppose the funding filed papers Oct. 28 claiming it is illegal and should be barred. The opponents, researchers who work with adult stem cells, are “suffering irreparable harm from the illegal competition” and permanent loss of federal funds, according to a brief they filed.

In their filing, the opponents cited the still-in-force 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment, saying that Congress prohibited funding any research in which a human embryo was destroyed. By implication, that included all embryonic stem-cell research, they argued.

The appeals court scheduled arguments on the dispute for Dec. 6

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

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