The past few weeks have seen a flurry of legal activity in regard to the recent ruling banning federal funding for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research.
The preliminary injunction issued on Aug. 23 by the District of Columbia District Court found that funding from the National Institutes of Health for hESC research was illegal, and was to stand until a trial matching plaintiffs James Sherley and Theresa Deisher against the federal government was decided. In response, the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, filed a motion to lift the injunction. The motion initially was denied by the District Court, but, on Sept. 9, a federal appeals court sided with the government and stayed the preliminary injunction, pending a hearing tomorrow. The hearing will resolve whether or not the injunction will remain in place until conclusion of the forthcoming trial, for which a date has yet to be set.
Almost immediately after the motion was stayed Sept. 9, the NIH resumed intramural hESC research and re-admitted competing hESC grants into its original slots within the peer-review system. Active noncompeting grants also were deemed eligible to be renewed.
Lawmakers also have been active. Upon returning from the August recess, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., introduced S.B. 3766, the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act of 2010, which would codify into law the executive order issued by President Obama on March 9, 2009 that expanded the number of hESC lines available for federal funding.
On Sept. 16, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee of the Senate appropriations committee, held a hearing featuring testimony from various witnesses, including NIH Director Francis S. Collins, stem cell researchers George Daley, Sean Morrison and Jean Peduzzi-Nelson, and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, co-author of the Dickey-Wicker amendment that bars the use of federal funds for destruction of human embryos.
On Wednesday, the University of California filed a motion to join the case as an intervener. In a press release, the university, which receives nearly $20 million for hESC research across its ten campuses, explains its decision as necessary “to directly weigh in with the court regarding the harm to research institutions” caused by the initial decision. If granted, the motion effectively will allow the university to join HHS as a defendant in the upcoming trial.