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Published: Wednesday, 8/25/2010

Appeal of stem-cell decision planned

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON - The government will appeal a court ruling that undercut federally funded embryonic stem-cell research, the Obama Administration declared Tuesday.

But dozens of experiments aimed at fighting spinal-cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, and other ailments probably will stop in the meantime.

The White House and scientists said Monday's court ruling was broader than first thought because it would prohibit even the more restricted stem-cell research allowed for the past decade under President George W. Bush's rules.

The Justice Department said an appeal is expected this week of the federal judge's preliminary injunction that disrupted an entire field of science.

That ruling won't stop all the work that scientists call critical to finding new therapies for devastating diseases.

The National Institutes of Health told researchers late Tuesday that if they've received money this year - $131 million in total - they can keep doing their stem-cell experiments.

But 22 projects that were scheduled to get yearly checks in September, $54 million worth, "will be stopped in their tracks," said NIH Director Francis Collins.

That freeze means a waste of the millions those scientists have spent unless they can find private dollars to keep the stem cells alive.

Dozens of other proposals won't get a hearing pending the court case's conclusion.

"This decision has just poured sand into the engine of discovery," Dr. Collins said.

But the ruling drew praise from the Alliance Defense Fund, a group of Christian attorneys who helped with the lawsuit filed by two researchers against the rules.

"The American people should not be forced to pay for experiments - prohibited by federal law - that destroy human life. The court is simply enforcing an existing law passed by Congress that prevents Americans from paying another penny for needless research on human embryos," said Steven Aden, the group's senior legal counsel.

President Obama, who last year ordered an expansion of stem-cell research, "put forward stringent ethical guidelines, and he thinks that his policy's the right one," Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said.

Asked if it might take new legislation from Congress to counter the ruling from U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, Mr. Burton said the administration was exploring all avenues "to make sure that we can continue to do this critical lifesaving research."

How quickly any appeal could go through may determine how much is permanently lost.

"These cells are notoriously finicky, and you have to take care of them every day. You can't just lock up a lab and walk away for two weeks and come back and everything's fine," said Dr. Jonathan Moreno, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, where scientists were scrambling to tell which projects had to halt and which didn't.

If it takes "months to settle the legal wrangling, then we will just end our work," said Dr. Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology.

The lab is studying embryonic stem cells in hopes of reversing a serious intestinal birth defect.

One leading stem-cell researcher had shifted gears:

At Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard researcher Dr. George Daley told his team to assume they couldn't use any of millions of dollars in government grant money to nurture the embryonic stem cells growing in his lab but must keep those cells alive by using equipment bought with private funds.

Judge Lamberth on Monday temporarily blocked government funding of embryonic stem-cell research.

The judge ruled that the pending lawsuit against the Obama policy was likely to succeed in its argument that such research violates the intent of a law prohibiting use of taxpayer dollars in work that destroys an embryo.

That law, called the Dickey-Wicker amendment, was written several years before scientists began growing batches, or lines, of stem cells culled from embryos.

Mr. Obama and two previous administrations - Bush and Clinton - had made a distinction between it and stem-cell research.

Some Democrats said they would try the legislation again, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) pledged a hearing on the court ruling as soon as Congress returns next month.

Mr. Bush had allowed taxpayer-funded research on 21 stem-cell lines.

Mr. Obama expanded the number that could be used but with additional caveats: that the original embryo was left over from fertility treatment and the woman or couple who donated it did so voluntarily and was told of other options.

The lawsuit was filed by two scientists who argued that Mr. Obama's expansion jeopardized their ability to win government funding for research using adult stem cells because it would mean extra competition.



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