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Stem cells: Court allows federal funding for embryonic stem cell research

April 29, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
  • A colony of human embryonic stem cells growing on mouse feeder cells.
A colony of human embryonic stem cells growing on mouse feeder cells. (Children's Hospital Boston )

Taxpayer dollars can fund research involving embryonic stem cells, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on Friday.

Proponents of stem cell research applauded the decision, saying it would allow important research to move forward. But they also braced for future battles.

"The fight for embryonic stem cell research in the United States is not over," said Dr. Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which uses state money to fund stem cell research, in a statement. "While this recent Court of Appeals decision is very welcome, it is simply one step toward U.S. researchers being able to feel they can proceed with this groundbreaking research."

Embryonic stem cells have the potential to develop into any kind of cell in the body. Researchers are investigating if they can be used in cures for cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injuries and other diseases. But because the cells are derived from days-old human embryos, some oppose the research on ethical grounds.

As the argument has raged on, many researchers have found it impossible to move forward with their work, not to mention to set research plans for the future, with uncertainties about funding looming.

In the court case addressed Friday, two researchers who work with adult stem cells sued to block federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, arguing that a federal law called the Dickey-Wicker amendment made such funding illegal. The law prohibits funding for "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed." At issue here is whether that law's restrictions apply to research conducted on stem cell lines that had been developed without federal funding.

A district court judge sided with the plaintiffs -- who believe the restrictions should apply -- in August, issuing a ruling barring funding for embryonic stem cell research. The three-judge appeals court panel blocked his ruling, on a temporary basis, in September. Friday's decision makes their decision permanent, allowing research to continue, but leaves the door open for appeals.

"The fight is far from over," Trounson said.

RELATED:

The Los Angeles Times' David Savage reported on today's stem cell ruling.

This story explains what happened the first time the appeals court blocked the funding prohibition in September, 2010.

Booster Shots, on the uncertainty stem cell researchers face: How do they plan for the future when funding could be yanked away again?

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