September 10, 2010

Court Temporarily Lifts Ban On Stem Cell Funding

A federal appeals court granted on Thursday a request by the Obama administration to temporarily lift a judge's ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The three-judge panel said in a brief that it was suspending the ban while it considers the initial, temporary injunction handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth on August 23.  In that injunction, Judge Lambert said that federal funding of embryonic stem cell research violated the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which prohibits federal tax funds from being used to fund research that would cause the destruction of human embryos.

If Judge Lamberth's ban is upheld, only private money would be permitted to fund embryonic stem cell research.

It could take several weeks for an appeals court to schedule a hearing, and then several months before a final ruling is issued on the matter.  

Both sides would then be free to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thursday's lifting of Judge Lamberth's temporary injunction provided a significant boost to supporters of embryonic stem cell research, including the Obama administration.

"It is ordered that the district court's August 23, 2010 order be stayed pending further order of the court," read the order from the D.C. Appeals Court.

In March 2009, President Obama reversed the ban on federal funding of stem cell research enacted by former president George W. Bush.  Obama's move was widely praised by many who believe embryonic stem cell research holds promise for finding treatments for degenerative conditions such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes.

Stem cells are master cells that can turn into any tissue of the body.  Experts believe they offer two promising paths for study: for research that cannot be conducted inside the human body, and for use as foundational cells that can be modified to grow into cardiac, pancreatic or brain cells to replace damaged or infected cells, allowing organs and tissue to regenerate themselves.

There are currently three kinds of stem cells under consideration for their potential benefit in medical research.

The first type is embryonic stem cells, which are extracted from human embryos.   Next are adult stem cells, which are obtained from the human body or from elements discarded after birth, such as an umbilical cord.  Finally, induced pluripotent stem cells, which are adult stem cells that have been genetically modified to resemble embryonic stem cells, are also of interest to scientists.


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