Stem-Cell Research Can Proceed as Court Rejects Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court let federal funding continue for human embryonic stem-cell research, turning away an appeal that accused the Obama administration of skirting federal law.

The justices today left intact a federal appeals court ruling that said the National Institutes of Health could keep sponsoring medical research using embryonic stem cells. Two researchers who rely on adult stem cells, rather than embryonic ones, James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, sued to challenge the funding.

President Barack Obama expanded embryonic stem-cell research when he took office in 2009, lifting restrictions put in place by his predecessor, George W. Bush. The NIH under Bush limited funding to projects that used then-existing lines of stem cells.

In lifting the limits, Obama said embryonic stem cells could aid creation of new treatments for diseases and injuries, including Parkinson’s, juvenile diabetes and severed spinal cords.

Embryonic stem cells, which are derived from days-old human embryos, have the potential to form any of the body’s 200 or so cell types, such as nerve cells or brain cells, and to repair or replace damaged tissue or organs. Adult stem cells, found in living tissue, have a more limited potential to become other cell types.

Opponents of embryonic stem-cell research say federal funding amounts to taxpayer support for the destruction of human life.

Human Embryos

The lawsuit challenged the guidelines the NIH put in place under Obama, saying the agency was violating a 1996 federal law that bars the destruction of human embryos and their creation for research purposes. Sherley and Deisher also said the NIH didn’t comply with the federal law that governs administrative rulemaking.

A judge in Washington ordered a halt to federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research in 2010. A federal appeals court prevented that ruling from going into effect and then reversed it.

The case is Sherley v. Sebelius, 12-454.

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