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Stem cell research can continue throughout appeal, court says

Government-funded research on embryonic stem cells can continue, a U.S. appellate court said Tuesday, while lawyers appeal a judge’s decision that found such research illegal.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said Sept. 9 that it was temporarily lifting the judge’s ban on stem cell research. The same panel issued an order Tuesday saying the research could continue until the case was resolved.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs applauded the move, saying President Obama had made “stem cell research and the pursuit of ground-breaking treatments and cures a top priority when he took office. We’re heartened that the court will allow National Institutes of Health and their grantees to continue moving forward” while the legal case proceeds.

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In August, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in Washington surprised the administration and many scientists by ruling that a 14-year-old congressional spending restriction prohibited federal support for all research on embryonic stem cells.

The NIH had maintained that the congressional spending measure prohibited the creation of new embryos for research purposes, but it did not prohibit research on existing embryos.

Lamberth said he thought the prohibition was much broader than what the administration believed, and he ordered a halt to current research.

Dr. Francis Collins, the NIH director, said the government has invested $546 million in human embryonic stem cell research since 2001. He also said Lamberth’s order would stop 24 research projects underway.

The appeals court wasted little time in lifting Lamberth’s order, and it has now decided to allow the research to continue until the legal case is resolved. It could take a year or more for the appeals court to decide the matter.

Two scientists had challenged the Obama administration’s stem cell funding policy, which was designed to expand federal support of the controversial research. The policy allowed the use of stem cell lines derived from frozen embryos no longer needed for fertility treatments that were donated according to strict ethical guidelines.

Critics view stem cell research as immoral, and Lamberth’s ruling was applauded by Charmaine Yoest, chief executive of Americans United for Life. “That administration policy is in violation of the law,” she said at the time.

david.savage@latimes.com


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