Court: Gov't can fund embryonic stem cell research

August 24, 2012 by JESSE J. HOLLAND

(AP)—A U.S. appeals court on Friday refused to order the Obama administration to stop funding embryonic stem cell research, despite complaints the work relies on destroyed human embryos.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Washington area upheld a lower court decision throwing out a lawsuit that challenged federal funding for the research, which is used in pursuit of cures to deadly diseases. Opponents claimed the National Institutes of Health was violating the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law that prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo.

But a three-judge appeals court panel unanimously agreed with a lower court judge's dismissal of the case. This is the second time the appeals court has said that the challenged federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was permissible.

"Dickey-Wicker permits federal funding of research projects that utilize already-derived ESCs—which are not themselves embryos—because no 'human embryo or embryos are destroyed' in such projects," Chief Judge David B. Sentelle said in the ruling, adding that the plaintiffs made the same argument the last the time the court reviewed the issue. "Therefore, unless they have established some 'extraordinary circumstance,' the law of the case is established and we will not revisit the issue."

Researchers hope one day to use stem cells in ways that cure spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease and other ailments. Opponents of the research object because the cells were obtained from destroyed human embryos. Though current research is using cells culled long ago, opponents say they also fear research success would spur new embryo destruction. Proponents say the research cells come mostly from extra embryos that fertility clinics would have discarded anyway.

The lawsuit was filed in 2009 by two scientists who argued that Obama's expansion jeopardized their ability to win government funding for research using adult stem cells—ones that have already matured to create specific types of tissues—because it will mean extra competition.

President George W. Bush also permitted stem cell research, but limited the availability of taxpayer funds to embryonic stem cell lines that were already in existence and "where the life and death decision has already been made." Obama's order removed that limitation, allowing projects that involve stem cells from already destroyed embryos or embryos to be destroyed in the future. To qualify, parents who donate the original embryo must be told of other options, such as donating to another infertile woman.

Sentelle also rejected the opponent's two other arguments: that the same federal law prohibits funding for projects where embryos are "knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death," and that NIH issued guidelines on the funding without responding to complaints about the research.

"Because the executive order's entire thrust was aimed at expanding support of stem-cell research, it was not arbitrary or capricious for NIH to disregard comments that instead called for termination of all ESC research," including research the White House has permitted since 2001," said Sentelle, who wrote the majority opinion for Judges Karen Henderson and Janice Rogers Brown.

Sentelle was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, Henderson by President George H.W. Bush and Brown by President George W. Bush, all three presidents Republicans.

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1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 24, 2012

Translation: Governments can wast money on research that is both practically and ethically problematic.
3 / 5 (2) Aug 24, 2012
To say it's practically problematic is to negate what research has found. In 2005 they partially restored mobility in paralyzed rats. In 2008 they found a way to gather stem cells without destroying embryos. Later in 2008 they showed cartilage regrowth in humans. It is a technically complex solution, but potentially very useful, and proven in some cases to be viable.

Science is not a straight line. To cut off one avenue of research doesn't mean we won't find solutions to a particular problem, but it does mean we've preculuded the possibility of that reasearch providing a solution.

To be fair, though, the controversy is likely a significant driver in research that has found other types of stem cells, such as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).
1 / 5 (5) Aug 25, 2012
Translation: Governments can wast money on research that is both practically and ethically problematic.

You can call it a waste of money. But this is probably the most promising field of medical research, concerning regenerative medicine. As for ethical issues, well, there are other means of obtaining stem cells (i.e. umbilical cells, bone marrow, or induced pluripotent stem cells).

There are a few problems, like you said, however. For example; the potential to develop cancers, and also immunological rejection. But there will be solution to these, with further research.

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