AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner hailed a U.S. judge’s ruling Wednesday that allows continued federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, saying it would allow “extremely promising” medical research to advance.
U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth dismissed a lawsuit challenging federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, deferring to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals that the research did not violate a federal law that bars the government from funding research that requires the destruction of embryos.
“AAAS is very pleased that Judge Lamberth has ruled in support of the Obama Administration’s human embryonic stem cell research policy,” said Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of the journal Science. “AAAS has long favored federal funding for the broadest array of stem cell research—including embryonic stem cell research—so long as it adheres to strict ethical guidelines such as the ones set forth in the current policy.
“The scientific consensus is that embryonic stem cell research is an extremely promising approach to developing more effective diagnostics and treatments for devastating conditions such as diabetes, spinal cord injuries and Parkinson’s disease.”
Stem cells are the foundation cells for every organ, tissue, and cell in the body. Stem cells found in a human blastocyst—the miscroscopic ball of about 150 cells that forms about fives days after conception—do not have a specific function, but will in time develop into specific organs and tissues. Researchers hope to develop methods to program those “blank” cells and to use them in treatments for a range of debilitating medical conditions.
The lawsuit argued that embryonic stem cell research violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which prohibits government funding of research that entails the destruction of miscroscopic embryos for the extraction of stem cells. Last August, Lamberth issued on injunction blocking federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The Court of Appeals ruled, however, that the law did not apply because the stem cells were obtained with private funding. Researchers have identified blastocysts left over after in vitro fertilization procedures as a crucial source of stem cells.
Lamberth, the chief judge for the U.S. District of Columbia, dismissed the lawsuit Wednesday (27 July).
“Judge Lamberth’s injunction last year threatened to cause real harm to researchers in this field and discourage the next generation of stem cell scientists,” Leshner said. “By excluding one of the most promising areas of stem cell research, the injunction could have slowed dramatically the development of potential new diagnostics and therapeutics.
“AAAS strongly believes that it is only through federal support of multiple avenues of stem cell research that we can better understand the potential value and limitations of each approach. We urge Congress to pass the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act and codify the Administration’ policy into law.”
Lamberth’s decision—and the AAAS reaction—received extensive news coverage, including articles in the Wall Street Journal [subscription required]; Politico; the Chronicle of Higher Education; and Agence France-Presse.
See more AAAS information and resources on stem cell research.