Embryonic Stem Wars Update: Feds Can Fund Research


Timothy Atchison, First patient treated with embryonic stem cells

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has definitively ruled the the feds can fund human embryonic stem cell research. An earlier ruling by a district court judge declared that the research violates the Dickey-Wicker amendment which prohibits using taxpayer dollars for research that harms human embryos. As I reported earlier,

Back in September, the Obama administration persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to temporarily lift the injunction, allowing federal funding to continue for now. That three-judge court ruled two to one that such funding does not violate federal law. The court's opinion [PDF], written by Circuit Judge Douglas Ginsburg concludes:

Two scientists brought this suit to enjoin the National Institutes of Health from funding research using human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) pursuant to the NIH's 2009 Guidelines. The district court granted their motion for a preliminary injunction, concluding they were likely to succeed in showing the Guidelines violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, an appropriations rider that bars federal funding for research in which a human embryo is destroyed. We conclude the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail because Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and the NIH seems reasonably to have concluded that, although Dickey-Wicker bars funding for the destructive act of deriving an ESC from an embryo, it does not prohibit funding a research project in which an ESC will be used. We therefore vacate the preliminary injunction.

This is unlikely to be the last word in the ongoing fight over stem cells.

In other news, the first patient, Timothy J. Atchison of Chatom, Ala.,  to be treated for spinal cord injuries using embryonic stem cells was revealed in April. It's too soon to tell if the treatment is working.

Disclosure: I own a couple hundred shares of Geron that I purchased using my own funds and so far I've only lost money on that investment.