January 13, 2013

Supreme Court Will Not Review Funding of Stem Cell Research

The Supreme Court has turned down an opportunity to review the legal challenge to the Obama policy on federal funding of embryonic stem cell (ESC) research. In 2009, President Obama reversed the Bush-era ban on using federal funds to derive new ESC lines. In Sherley v. Sebelius, several federally funded adult stem cell researchers had challenged Obama’s policy as a violation of the Dickey Wicker amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for any research in which an embryo is destroyed. Earlier this year, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling that the Obama policy did not violated the legislative ban. The Supreme Court has now denied the challengers’ petition for certiorari. Researchers in the field can expect stability through the second Obama term. After that, a new executive policy in 2017 could again impair funding, but the field has advanced over these last four years. The fully funded ESC field has now generated many new ESC lines, which place the field in a stronger position than in was in 2009. The NIH Stem Cell Registry now lists about 200 available cell lines, in contrast to about 20 that were available during the Bush policy years. Nonetheless, the prospect of future volatility in funding policy remains an unwelcome distraction for the field. One only has to look at the impact that the sequestration debate in Washington (mandatory spending cuts to kick in March 1) has had on the biomedical research community as it adjusts to the fact that the NIH may be facing an 8.2% reduction in its budget if sequestration is not avoided by Congress.

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