NIH resumes stem cell funding after court lifts injunction
■ The ruling temporarily permits research grants while a three-judge appeals panel considers revoking an earlier ban.
Washington -- The National Institutes of Health is restarting funding of embryonic stem cell research after an appeals court temporarily lifted a lower court's ban against it.
NIH officials said Sept. 10 that they again will consider about 50 embryonic stem cell research proposals up for initial funding or renewal in the next months, including 22 proposals in line for a total of $54 million by Sept. 30.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia temporarily lifted the Aug. 23 ban on federal embryonic stem cell research while it considers arguments for and against the injunction.
"We are pleased with the court's interim ruling, which will allow promising stem cell research to continue while we present further arguments to the court in the weeks to come," NIH said in a statement.
In August, Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that federal law prohibits any federal funding of research that destroys human embryos, citing language in the Dickey-Wicker amendment, a provision added to HHS appropriations bills annually since 1996.
The Dept. of Health and Human Services, on behalf of the NIH, is seeking to have the injunction permanently removed.
Plaintiffs who won the injunction in a lower court, including two researchers who use nonembryonic stem cells, filed a motion on Sept. 14 to restore the ban. HHS had until Sept. 20 to file its motion on the injunction.
The appeals court said lifting the ban is not evidence that it supports or opposes either party's arguments in the case.
The plaintiffs, which include the Christian Medical & Dental Assns., an adoption agency and others, are still confident they will prevail, said Steve Aden, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, part of the plaintiffs' legal team. The alliance takes on cases involving religious freedom.
"We're still looking forward to briefing the case and ultimately prevailing, because we think the law is clear," Aden said.
He said an appeals court decision could come days after both sides file their arguments. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs' legal team filed a motion Sept. 9 asking for a permanent injunction. Lamberth could rule on that motion before the appeals court issues its ruling, Aden said.
Lisa Hughes, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said Congress needs to intervene by adopting a measure to end the ban on federal funding of stem cell research.
"It is crucial that federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research be restored permanently, and this stay is a step in that direction," she said.