A legal victory for embryonic stem-cell researchers

On Friday morning, another chapter was closed in the longstanding dispute over the legality of federally funded human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. A three-judge federal appeals court unanimously upheld the ruling of a lower court that allowed the NIH to continue to fund research on hESCs.

The case, first filed in 2009, revolves around the language of the Dickey–Wicker amendment, which bars federal funding for research that destroys human embryos. The plaintiffs in the case, adult stem cell researchers James L. Sherley and Theresa Deisher, contend that NIH-funded hESC research violates Dickey–Wicker because hESCs could be derived only through destruction of human embryos. The court, rather, sided with the government’s interpretation, which is that derivation of hESCs is prohibited by Dickey–Wicker, but research on hESCs, which is distinct from derivation, is allowed.

“I am quite pleased with the ruling about the funding of embryonic stem cell research,” said Ben Corb, director of public affairs at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “We have always felt that NIH was well within its legal rights to fund such work.”

ASBMB has been highly critical of existing legislation concerning embryonic stem-cell research. ASBMB previously issued a statement calling for the establishment of “a uniform regulatory landscape for the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells” so that researchers can avoid “the constant specter of judicial challenges.”

Added Corb, “Dickey–Wicker stifles research that could lead to innovative treatments and cures. We need Congress to step up and pass legislation that wipes away Dickey–Wicker by clarifying the guidelines for conducting research on embryonic stem cells.”

After a ruling in 2011 by a U.S. district court and Friday’s unanimous ruling by the U.S. appeals court both in favor of the NIH, the plaintiffs’ case appears to be on life-support. Nevertheless, some legal experts expect this case to be decided ultimately by the U.S. Supreme Court.

For more information about ASBMB’s advocacy efforts, contact Corb at bcorb@asbmb.org or 240-283-6625.

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  1. Pingback: The end of the stem-cell legal battle « ASBMB Policy Blotter

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