April 29 was an exciting day to be in the news business, asthe world watched a highly anticipated royal wedding, and an appeals courtrendered a verdict in a controversial case invoking the question of whether theUnited States federal government should provide funding to researchers engagedin human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research.
The latter announcement is obviously of more interest to ourreaders, and follows nearly a year's worth of coverage of the Sherley, et al., v. Sebelius, et al.,case in ddn's various news vehicles.While it involved no Cartier tiaras or curtsies, the U.S. Court of Appeals forthe District of Columbia's ruling crowned the Obama Administration the victorin an ongoing debate over whether the U.S. government should help fund researchthat involves the destruction of embryos—which the plaintiffs in the caseargued is a violation of congressional spending laws.
Specifically, the lead plaintiffs in the case—adult stemcell researchers Dr. James L. Sherley, a biological engineer at BostonBiomedical Research Institute, and Dr. Theresa Deisher, research anddevelopment director at AVM Biotechnology LLC in Seattle—alleged that an ordersigned last year by President Barack Obama which lifted a ban on federalfunding for hESC research violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a law thatprohibits the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from usingappropriated funds for the creation of human embryos for research purposes, orfor research in which human embryos are destroyed.
The plaintiffs further arguesthat Obama's order has intensified competition for the limited governmentdollars, making it more difficult for them to get funding for their own work.
Last August, federal district judge Royce Lamberth, findingmerit in these arguments, temporarily brought federal funding forembryo-destructive research to a halt. A month later, the U.S. Court of Appealstemporarily suspended Lamberth's injunction until the case could be decided.
The most recent decision—which hit newswires just as we putthis issue to bed—reversed Lamberth's ruling, saying it would impose asubstantial hardship on stem cell researchers who have multi-year projects alreadyunderway. The court's 2-1 decision also found that the funding of hESC researchis permissible under Dickey-Wicker, as Congress has renewed the amendment everyyear with the knowledge that it funds such research.
The White House reacted swiftly to the decision: "Today'sruling is a victory for our scientists and patients around the world who standto benefit from the groundbreaking medical research they're pursuing,"said Nicholas Papas, a White House spokesman.
But while the court's decision green-lights once again theuse of federal tax dollars for hESC research, it may not be the last word inthis contentious debate, as the plaintiffs in the case can both continue theiroriginal case before Lamberth as well as appeal this ruling to the full appealscourt or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Over the summer, in our July, August and September issues, ddn will be taking a closer look at thehistory of stem cell research, which side researchers and the non-scientificpublic fall on in this debate and the discoveries being made by companiesengaged in hESC research. We will, of course, continue to follow this case, inour special reports as well as on our 24-7 website, www.drugdiscoverynews.com,and our blog, www.drugdiscoverynews.com/blog. We hope you will both enjoy ourin-depth coverage and contribute to the conversations that will ultimatelyresult from the impact of the court's decision.