WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Obama administration can continue using federal tax dollars to fund human embryonic stem cell research, an appeals court ruled on Friday, overturning a judge's decision and handing a victory to the White House.
A federal judge ruled last year that the U.S. National Institutes of Health guidelines on such research violated the law because embryos were destroyed in the process and it put other researchers working with adult stem cells at a competitive disadvantage for federal grants.
That judge granted an injunction against such research funding. But it was put on hold pending appeal so federal money continued to flow after the Obama administration warned that millions of dollars in research would be ruined.
In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court overturned the judge's ruling, saying that the U.S. law was "ambiguous" and "did not prohibit funding a research project in which an ESC (embryonic stem cell) will be used."
The case emerged from two researchers who opposed work with embryonic stem cells and sued to block such funding. They argued that they were squeezed out of federal grants for their own work with adult stem cells.
The researchers, Dr. James Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher, of Washington-based AVM Biotechnology, could appeal the ruling to the full appeals court or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Barack Obama has expanded federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells in hopes it will lead to cures for more diseases. Opponents argue, usually on religious grounds, that the research is unacceptable because it damages or destroys human embryos.
Human embryonic stem cells come from days-old embryos and can produce any type of cell in the body. Scientists hope to be able to use them to address spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes and diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
(Additional reporting by James Vicini, editing by Eric Beech)