Embryonic Stem Cell Ruling Halts March Toward Cures

For people waiting for cures, the wait just got longer as embryonic stem cell research in the United States takes a step backward.

Researchers value embryonic stem cells for their ability to morph into any cell of the body, with the potential for better treatments or even cures for diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, as well as spinal cord injuries. Embryonic stem cell research comes with no guarantees, but without extensive research, the potential will remain unknown.

As Care2’s Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux wrote yesterday, U.S. district judge Royce C. Lamberth granted a preliminary injunction to stop federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. It is a battle that has been raging for years and there is little doubt that the Obama administration will appeal.

Candidate Barack Obama ran on a promise to lift the barriers put in place by President George W. Bush in 2001. He fulfilled that promise with his signature on an executive order in March 2009.

Later that year, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued strict guidelines allowing for the use of embryonic stem cells from human embryos created at in vitro fertilization clinics. The clinics generally create more embryos than are needed and are left with embryos that are often discarded.

Federal law prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars to destroy a human embryo. Once they are created, though, these stem cell lines can reproduce in the lab. What the President’s executive order did was to increase the number of lines that federally funded researchers could use from 21 to 75.

The NIH rules specified that couples who donated the original embryo did so voluntarily and were informed of their options. Federal money could still be used if the embryonic stem cells were obtained with private money.

Opponents of embryonic stem cell research contend that life begins as soon as an egg is fertilized, thus making an embryo a human being. In order to obtain embryonic stem cells, the embryo must be destroyed.

The victory for embryonic stem cell advocates was short-lived when Judge Lamberth ruled that taxpayer dollars cannot be used on research on stem cells even if the embryos they came from had been destroyed years before, going even further than the restrictions put in place by President Bush.

Dedicated researchers, for a short time, were free to concentrate on the task at hand in an effort to advance our knowledge and understanding of embryonic stem cells and to unlock their full capabilities.

While we await word on how the Obama administration will proceed, it is unclear how this decision will impact research already underway, or the dedicated researchers who have been thrust into a legal quagmire.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Democrats in Congress are already considering action on the issue, with Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Health Committee and an Appropriations subcommittee that funds medical research, saying he will hold hearings on the issue as soon as the Senate returns from summer recess.

When President Obama signed the executive order, former first lady Nancy Reagan, who became a supporter of stem cell research after former President Ronald Reagan passed away after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, said

“These new rules will now make it possible for scientists to move forward. Countless people, suffering from many different diseases, stand to benefit from the answers stem cell research can provide. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to do everything in our power to find cures for these diseases — and soon.”

For now, at least, the federal funding that propels this research forward is gone. Researchers who rely on NIH grants now find themselves in limbo. Patients, families, and caregivers must keep on waiting.

Judge Lamberth’s ruling is a major setback for stem cell advocates and will seriously disrupt the advancement of this important scientific research in the U.S.

The march toward cures for life-threatening diseases will slow its pace once again.

Update: August 24: The New York Times reports that the Obama administration said it will appeal the ruling and that experiments already under way could continue.

If the ruling stands, however, funding for 22 experiments will be suspended by the end of September, and another 60 projects will be jeopardized.

Photo: http://www.atp.nist.gov


Janice P.
Janice P7 years ago

Oddly enough, it seems to be primarily the "Pro-Lifers", who are opposed to embryonic stem cell research. That makes no sense at all. This issue was discussed today on NPR's Diane Rehm Show. Embryonic stem cells need to be studied, in order to determine what "powers" them, so that cures can be found. Adult stem cells simply do not have the same properties. Moreover, the most owners of these cells do not want them and wish to donate them for research purposes. The law, which eliminates all federal funding being used for such research, completely forecloses those possibilities.

If the US continues down its long slide down this road, we will become a 3rd world nation in every respect, including in medical advancement. The harm we are causing to those with maladies, which could be treated or cured with this research, is enormous. It is beyond shameful. It is heartless and almost evil.

Jo B.
josie batlles7 years ago

We must find cures for horrible diseases like Parkinsons and Althaimers...Thank you very much for sharing x

Theresa C.
Theresa C7 years ago

They should go further with their studies/research. It should continue.

Jaette C.
Jaette Carpenter7 years ago

First the girls and Rett Syndrome had research halted for 25 years because of the bastard Hitler. After his 'White Supremacy' garbage and extermination of children with any disability, parents were very suspicious of any research regarding Children. Now we have stem cell on, stem cell off, at the whim of religious fanatics and court systems that have frankly, lost their minds. (gay marriage on, gay marriage off, see a pattern?)

Carolyn Munro
Carolyn Munro7 years ago

i may get my head chewed off for this. I am christian, evangelical.

Abortions have happened for more than a 100 years and nothing is going to stop it so so why not make use of them.

There is stupid and then there is stupidsS . God gave us brains and very smart people. God wants us to take advantage of them. He placed cures and methods on this earth for us to uncover to help us all

I am all for stem cell research and it must go on. As the earth warms, we will experience more and more diseases, we must find cures. I also have an incurable illness, and I pray there will cures for millions , we need this research to continue

Carolyn Munro
Carolyn Munro7 years ago

Yes stem cell research must continue and no more time wasted. We need cures, not last week but NOW

Rachel M H.

We are research in an ongoing process. Use your own intelligence to read and understand. If you don't understand, get an intelligent friend or friend of a friend to help you understand. Don't rely on public figures who act like they know everything and many times lead down the wrong way. "Study to show thyself approved a workman that need NOT be ashamed" Sincerely, Rakal PS: We're going to make it ! nSincerely,

Pat L.
Patricia L7 years ago

This is just another byproduct of the evangelical right to inject some kind of religious agenda into a purely scientific subject. This country was founded on separation of church and state and we are not morally bound by a group of idiots who want to halt the progress of research that could result in cures for many diseases. An embryo is an embryo. Do these people have a problem eating chicken embryos? I do not want to live in a country where I have to pick a religion or leave. My ancestors were already forced to do that, and that's why they came here. Placental blood may be good for some research, but embryos are still necessary. Perhaps if Glenn Beck were suffering from some disease that only embryonic stem cell research could cure, he would get down on his chubby knees, look up to the heavens, squeeze out a few tears and ask God to speed up the research so that he could live--who knows?!

Connie Richardson

everyone should read this article,..stem cell research must continue!!

Philippa P.
Philippa P7 years ago