Federal judge continues to dis human embryonic stem cell research


Last month, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., threw the entire field of human embryonic stem cell research into doubt when he ordered the National Institutes of Health to stop funding research projects involving the cells. Since the cell lines are derived from young embryos – which are destroyed in the process – a law called the Dickey-Wicker Amendment prohibits the federal government from funding the research, he explained in a preliminary injunction that took the NIH and scientists across the country by surprise.

The Obama administration asked the judge to lift his injunction while the matter is sorted out in court. On Tuesday, Lamberth denied that request. The government plans to appeal, according to this report on the Nature website.

The latest ruling clears up at least a little bit of the confusion generated last month. For instance, Lamberth makes clear that with his injunction, he did not intend to stop federal funding for projects using human embryonic stem cell lines that were approved by President George W. Bush. That means that at least some experiments can continue undisturbed.

But legal experts who questioned the reasoning behind the original ruling are even more perplexed now. Writing on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, UCLA law professor Russell Korobkin explains the “logical inconsistency” of Lamberth’s argument.

He also points out that the two plaintiffs in the case – researchers who say the Obama funding policy hurts them because it means they have to face stiffer competition when applying for NIH grants – are actually not affected at all. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, one of the scientists, James Sherley, won an NIH grant in 2010, a year after the suit was filed. The other researcher, Theresa Deisher, has never applied for a grant from the biomedical research agency, according to court filings.

-- Karen Kaplan/Los Angeles Times