Stem cell ruling lamented, appealed

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins is "stunned" by the federal district judge's decision to deny federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, and the Justice Department plans to appeal the ruling. Human embryonic stem cellsImage: Wikimedia commons, Nissim BenvenistyYesterday (August 24), Collins lamented to reporters about the more than $50 million in grants that had to be denied their annual renewals. "This very unexpected development"

By | August 25, 2010

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins is "stunned" by the federal district judge's decision to deny federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, and the Justice Department plans to appeal the ruling.
Human embryonic stem cells
Image: Wikimedia commons,
Nissim Benvenisty
Yesterday (August 24), Collins lamented to reporters about the more than $50 million in grants that had to be denied their annual renewals. "This very unexpected development" has dire consequences for both research projects already underway, as well as countless others that have yet to begin, said Collins. "Frankly, I was stunned, as was virtually everyone here at NIH, by the judicial decision yesterday," he said. "This decision has the potential to do serious damage to one of the most promising areas of biomedical research, and just at the time when we were really gaining momentum." The judge ruled that because hESC research is only possible after the destruction of embryos, any research involving these cell lines "is precluded from receiving federal funding." In addition to overturning President Barack Obama's 2009 executive order to expand those hESC lines eligible for federal funding, the ruling may negate the possibility of funding for even those lines allowed under former President George W. Bush. Yesterday, the US Department of Justice said it would appeal the ruling. In addition to the long list of diseases that hESCs have shown promise in treating, hESC research holds great potential in the area of drug development, Collins said. With regard to the NIH in particular, 50 grant proposals in the queue for peer review have been pulled from consideration because they involve hESC research, and $15-20 million worth of proposals that have passed the first stage of peer review with high scores and are awaiting counsel review have also been pulled. Finally, the injunction places a freeze on the annual renewal of another 22 grants totaling $54 million supporting "projects that are already well underway," Collins explained. Grants that have already been paid, which total $131 million this year alone, are permitted to continue -- until they come up for annual renewal next year, that is. "If this decision stands," Collins said, "very promising research on human diseases on which we need new insights and new options will not get done. Screening for new drugs using hESCs, a very promising way to discover new compounds, will stop. Researchers, who have been so energized by the opportunities made available over the last year, will likely grow discouraged, maybe move on to other countries or other fields of research. We will lose the momentum." He continued: "This is one of the most exciting areas of the broad array of engines of discovery that NIH supports. This decision has just poured sand into that engine of discovery."
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:NIH OKs 13 stem cell lines;
[2nd December 2009]*linkurl:NIH loosens stem cell consent rules;
[6th July 2009]*linkurl:Obama to lift stem cell ban;
]6th March 2009]


Avatar of: Mike Serfas

Mike Serfas

Posts: 35

August 25, 2010

Please see for a description of the political aspects of this decision.
Avatar of: Paul Knoepfler

Paul Knoepfler

Posts: 6

August 25, 2010

As a stem cell researcher, I can tell you that there are a lot of very frustrated scientists out there unhappy with this judge, NIH, and even President Obama, who they feel did not do enough to prevent this from happening (i.e. work at the legislative level to dropkick that amendment at the heart of this issue at some point in the last 2 years). \n\nThis ruling also tears into the hopes of millions of patients. While adult stem cell research is awesome, there are just some diseases including some of the most common ones for which it cannot work and you need ES cell research.\n\nMany think the ruling is fundamentally flawed because of the "harm" issue where the judge said the adult stem cell researchers are harmed by having competition for federal funds, but then turns around and says the ES cell researchers would not be harmed by his decision since they can apply for private funds. Huh? Why then cannot the adult stem cell researchers also avoid harm by applying for private funds? There's a major logical problem there.\n\nPaul\n
Avatar of: Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker

Posts: 1

August 25, 2010

First of all, the court decision was correct - it's the 1996 law that's a problem.\n\nAnd why did the 1996 law pass? Because Dr. Collin's coreligionists, arguing from the same concept of divine moral law that Dr. Collins thinks is such a great concept, lobbied Congress to pass it.\n\nDr. Collins being stunned by this ruling is like a dog being stunned after he bites his own tail. You reap what you sow, and as long as Dr. Collins and others like him keep sowing superstitious nonsense, the country will continue to reap consequences like this.
Avatar of: Jeremy Wickins

Jeremy Wickins

Posts: 9

August 26, 2010

First, a disclaimer - I don't live in the US. However, I've looked quite a lot at this issue from my side of the pond. \n\nThe judge's decision, as noted elsewhere, has two distinct parts, when really it needed only one - the jurisprudential one. On a reading of the law restricting/banning ESC research, it is fairly watertight, and (jurisprudentially, not politically) it has been a bit of a mystery how the twelve lines which are in use ever got permission. The Presidential Order was only going to work if the right judges heard the inevitable challenges, because the problem (from the position of pro-ESC researchers) is actually the 1996 amendment. However, with so much for the Obama administration to do when it first came in, it is understandable that they chose not to have that fight through Congress and the Senate at that time. Hence my lack of surprise at the judge's decision.\n\nThe part of the decision that deals with competition for funding is bizarre, and one is left wondering what on earth the judge was thinking. Again pointed out elsewhere, the practical implication of this is that, every time an application for a research grant is turned down, it can be heard in a court! However, this part will be easily slapped down in a higher court.\n\nIt is, from my point of view, long past time that we find a way to keep religiously motivated crackpots from interfering in things that they have no business being in. In Europe, ESC research is held back by the conservative Catholic loons, in the USA it conservative loons of many religious opinions. All we can do is wait until the Far Eastern countries, not held back by this medieval claptrap, tell us what we can have.
Avatar of: Gary Huber

Gary Huber

Posts: 23

August 26, 2010

Dear Jeremy Wickins,\n\nI am a Catholic, and my political views tend toward the conservative end of the spectrum. While your points are well-taken and I agree with many of them, the use of offensive phrases such as "conservative Catholic loons" has no place in a scientific forum. Thank you for your future consideration.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

August 27, 2010

This brings an interesting focus on the significant need of scientific education. I think that the judge who made this ruling - although he knows the laws, rules and regulations very well, he perhaps significantly lacks a basic scientific background. Human embryonic stem cells - in the first 3 months are just cells unless in womb beyond that! So, if someone has given them up with the understanding that they are giving it to research which will eventually lead to treatment of so many terminal diseases, what is a 3rd person's trouble in accepting it. And if left frozen over a period of time, (waiting to be used by someone who would make them human), they might even go bad and rendered un-useful evevn to scientific research, let alone another baby. The rightists have to really get to understand all this stuff before making such life-altering decisions.\nAlso, have they really forgotten to consider the life which will benefit with the eventual use of these cells ?- it might be priceless to the person who will eventually benefit from these cells and the research done on them.
Avatar of: William Stone

William Stone

Posts: 1

August 30, 2010

In my opinion this judge must have a mental disease to have made such a ruling. Please appeal immediately. The ruling will cost many live and much suffering.

Popular Now

  1. A Newly Identified Species Represents Its Own Eukaryotic Lineage
  2. Man Receives First In Vivo Gene-Editing Therapy
  3. Telomere Length and Childhood Stress Don’t Always Correlate
  4. Optogenetic Therapies Move Closer to Clinical Use