The federal judge who originally held up federal funding of human embryonic-stem-cell research reversed himself on Wednesday and ruled in favor of the Obama administration.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth last year issued an injunction against a National Institutes of Health plan to move ahead with the controversial research, ruling that a lawsuit filed by two researchers was likely to succeed.
But an Appeals Court overturned his injunction in April, deeming that the case was likely to fail.
The ruling does not change much. NIH has continued to fund the research since the Appeals Court ruling.
In his decision on Wednesday, Lamberth said he was bound by the higher court's analysis, and he ruled in favor of the administration's motion to dismiss the case. "Judgment is entered for defendants. All claims are hereby dismissed," Lamberth wrote in the order.
Dr. James Sherley of Boston Biomedical Research Institute and Theresa Deisher of Washington-based AVM Biotechnology, who both work with adult stem cells and oppose the use of embryonic cells, filed the original suit, asserting that the guidelines would harm their work by increasing competition for limited federal funding.
Embryonic stem cells are the body’s master cells. Found in days-old embryos, they give rise to every other cell and tissue. Researchers are studying them to investigate how disease develops and are using some as transplants to treat diseases ranging from Parkinson’s to cancer. Human embryonic stem cells developed by the biopharmaceutical company Geron are being tested in people with fresh, severe spinal-cord injuries to determine if they can regenerate the damaged nerves.
Opponents say that a human embryo must be destroyed to get the stem cells, which they argue is unacceptable. The 1996 Dickey-Wicker amendment, added to budget language every year, forbids the use of federal funds in research that destroys embryos.
President George W. Bush decided that the ban extended to human embryonic-stem-cell research and greatly limited the federal program. His decision forced labs across the country to set up firewalls between human embryonic-stem-cell research and other types of research.
As one of his first acts in office, President Obama issued an executive order reversing Bush's and allowing federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research. He signed the order in a room full of applauding scientists.
The issue transcends traditional politics. Some of the strongest supporters of human embryonic-stem-cell research are conservatives, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who do not support abortion rights, for instance.
The Obama administration guidelines do not allow the use of federal dollars to create the stem cells but do allow researchers to work with them if they are made by another lab.
This article appears in the July 27, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.