Supreme Court won’t hear stem cell case: funding can continue

The legal case that would have halted the ability of the NIH to fund embryonic stem cell research finally came to a close today when the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

The story began in August, 2010, when federal judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research impermissible under current laws. We wrote about the effect of that initial decision on California researchers here.

The U.S. government and others appealed (which we blogged about here) and in September the U.S. Court of Appeals put a hold on that ruling, allowing the NIH to resume funding the use of human embryonic stem cells until a final decision on the case (blogged about here). In April 2011, the court made a ruling bringing that phase of the legal case to an end, allowing the NIH and other federal agencies to fund the work with the cells (blogged about here).

The researchers who filed the case appealed to the Supreme Court in the fall. Today’s news that the Supreme Court won’t hear the case brings the entire saga to a quiet close.

Federal agencies can continue funding research with human embryonic stem cell lines that have meet certain ethical standards. The NIH provides a list of all lines that have met those standards, available here. Those lines are also available for CIRM-funded research.

In their story, the LA Times wrote about the history of federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research:

President George W. Bush in 2001 had allowed limited research on several stem cell lines that were already in existence. Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama went further and said NIH could conduct “scientifically worthy human stem cell research to the extent permitted by law.” Under guidelines issued by NIH, researchers can used stem line cells derived from donated frozen embryos that are no longer needed for fertility treatments.

Where CIRM and federal agencies differ is in the creation of new stem cell lines. Federal funds cannot be spent on creating new embryonic stem cell lines, whereas CIRM funded researchers are able to create new lines.

A.A.

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