Court Ruling Reinstates Federal Embryonic Stem Cell Funding (For Now)

Colonies of embryonic stem cells

via University of Wisconsin-Madison

The push-pull between the Obama administration and U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth over the government's funding of embryonic stem cell research has swung back the other way, at least temporarily lifting the temporary injunction blocking federal funding for embryonic stem cell research that was issued last month.

The lifting of the funding is a victory of sorts for those in the scientific community who support President Obama's policy, which allows federal funding of embryonic stem cell research on stem cell lines outside of the original 21 allowed under his predecessor's policy. But the issue is far from settled, and research that has already been suspended by the National Institutes of Health is likely to remain on hold until a final decision is made by the Court of Appeals.

That could take awhile. The three-judge panel was careful to note that their lifting of the funding ban is in no way an endorsement of the administration's position on the matter but rather a means to provide them with more time to consider all the issues. So while the federal money spigot can once again flow, many projects on hold will likely remain that way.

Moreover, the uncertainty that the controversy introduces into the scientific community may make it harder for some projects to drum up private funding, as backers may be apprehensive to sink cash into research that may end up collapsing under a court ruling anyhow.

In the meantime, opponents of the funding have until September 14th to hand in their response to the appeals court, while the government – representing the NIH – has until the September 20th. Neither the Department of Justice nor the NIH chose to comment on the injunction today.

For more, last week's New Yorker has a nice piece on the NIH and the stem cell debate.