A D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel recently heard argument on whether new National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines pertaining to federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research violate a law that places certain restrictions on such research. Sherley v. Sebelius, No. 10-5287 (D.C. Cir., argued December 6, 2010). The challenge was brought by two scientists who work with adult stem cells and contend that that the NIH guidelines have put them at a competitive disadvantage in terms of securing federal funding. A district court ordered the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and NIH to stop funding embryonic stem-cell research, and the appeals court stayed the order pending its review of the decision.
According to a news source, one of the scientists, James Sherley, works for a biomedical research institute that joined an amicus filing directly opposing its employee in the suit. The Boston Biomedical Research Institute has apparently informed the court that it was restricted by the lower court’s injunction from expanding its research to include the use of human embryonic stem cells and has been forced to reject a university and foundation offer to provide the institute with human embryonic stem cells with mutations conferring muscular dystrophy for its research.
A government lawyer reportedly argued that the government is not paying for research that endangers or destroys human embryos, seeking to distinguish research that creates stem-cells and in the process destroys embryos from research using the differentiated cells developed from the stem-cell lines. She apparently indicated that the stem cell lines used in federally funded research may have been created years earlier, and that Congress did not intend to ban funding for any research using embryonic stem cells. The NIH guidelines allow research on cells derived from embryos that would otherwise be disposed of after in vitro fertilization procedures. See Associated Press, November 22, 2010; The National Law Journal and Bloomberg Businessweek, December 6, 2010.