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Science Policy, Stem Cells

Stanford stem cell expert weighs in on district court ruling

UPDATE 08-24-10: Irving Weissman also commented on the ruling in today’s New York Times.

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08-23-10:

As is being widely reported this afternoon, a U.S. District Court judge named Royce Lamberth today issued a temporary injunction blocking researchers from using federal funds to conduct human embryonic stem cell research. The move was made in response to a lawsuit filed by two doctors who conduct adult stem cell research. They argue that using federal funds for embryonic stem cell research limits the amount of money available for their field and violates restrictions placed on the use of federal funds for the destruction or injury of human embryos.

Stanford’s Irving Weissman, MD, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, immediately issued a sharp condemnation of the ruling:

The ruling by judge Lambert is profound and disturbing. The long-term practical impact is a massive halt to most ES research in the US. It means every lab using federal funds to do human embryonic stem cell research must stop using those funds, and immediately find an alternative source of funds. While the judicial process grinds on, it is likely that many precious cell lines will be lost.

It also means the Obama administration may have to codify into law what had previously been spelled out as an executive order allowing federal funds to be used for research on human embryonic stem cell lines (the lines themselves would have to be derived using non-federal funds – per the Dickey-Wicker Amendment of 1995). In the long run, the lawsuit may force the administration’s hand and lead to an attempted repeal of the amendment, which some experts feel may be an unwinnable political battle.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine also condemned the ruling in a late afternoon statement:

The leadership of CIRM, the state stem cell agency, deplores the decision of U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to freeze federal funding of all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. This decision will disrupt the advances that are happening across the country to bring hESC-based therapies to patients in need.
Under this decision, even research using on the hESC lines approved by President George W. Bush will be halted.

Weissman concluded:

As ES cells are the most promising short-cut to find adult tissue or organ stem cells, today’s ruling means delays in finding stem cells for regenerative therapies for a variety of incurable chronic diseases. These diseases require lifelong daily medications and repeat hospitalizations, and extract an incalculable economic and social toll on our society.

Previously: Stumbling stem-cell policy regains footing, First human embryonic stem cell lines approved for funding under new guidelines and Stem cell guidelines under fire

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