The US courts rule that controversial stem cells research is legal

stem cell research legal Last Friday a federal appeals court ruled that the US federal government may continue to pay for human embryonic stem cell research.

Read the full article from NBC News here.

This case is one that has been going on for 4 years, and the details of it can get a little complicated, but the key facts are outlined below:

  • 1996 – Dickey-Wicker amendment, added by Congress to budget language every year, forbids the use of federal funds in research that destroys embryos.
  • 2000 – President George W. Bush decides that the ban extended to human embryonic stem-cell research and thereby greatly limited the federal program.
  • 2008 – President Barack Obama reverses this and encourages the National Institutes of Health to pay for embryonic stem-cell research, so long as federal money wasn't used to directly make the stem cells. To get the cells, someone in a private lab using private money has to take apart the embryos.  Federal funds may be used to work with the cells that private labs make available.
  • 2009 – Dr. James Sherley of Boston Biomedical Research Institute and Theresa Deisher of AVM Biotechnology in Seattle, sued the government. They both do research using adult stem cells, but oppose the use of human embryonic stem cells. They argued that federal guidelines violate the law and would harm their work by increasing competition for limited federal funding.
  • Since 2009 the case has been heard a couple of times, and Sherley has promised to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Proponents of embryonic stem cell research say that this research allows for the investigation of how diseases develop, and that this research will eventually lead to a cure for diseases like Parkinson's, cancer and blindness.

Opponents of the research say it's unacceptable to destroy a human embryo to get the cells.

On Friday, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, Judge David Bryan Sentelle, and Karen LeCraft Henderson of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington upheld an earlier court ruling throwing out the case. The law, they said "permits federal funding of research projects that utilize already-derived embryonic stem cells—which are not themselves embryos—because no ‘human embryo or embryos are destroyed' in such projects."

"As we have held before, the NIH interpretation of the statute's actual language is reasonable,' they added.

“NIH will continue to move forward, conducting and funding research in this very promising area of science. The ruling affirms our commitment to the patients afflicted by diseases that may one day be treatable using the results of this research,” NIH director Dr. Francis Collins said in a statement. 

For more information on stem cell research, check out Stem Cells USA & Regenerative Medicine Congress.

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