Human Embryonic Stem Cells
Also on the policy side, the Obama administration stepped up NIH’s endorsement of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines that are eligible for federal funding. Two such lines were approved on December 12—CA1 and CA2, both provided by Andras Nagy, Ph.D., senior investigator at Mount Sinai-Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute—raising the total number of government-allowed hESC lines to 138. So far this year, NIH has endorsed 52 hESC lines, compared with 46 in 2010 and 40 in 2009.
The administration scored a victory in the ongoing Sherley et al. v. Sebelius et al. court case concerning federal funding of research on hESCs. On July 27, Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sided with co-defendants HHS, HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius, NIH, and NIH director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., allowing federal money to continue to flow toward hESC research. Three months earlier, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned a preliminary injunction issued by Lamberth that temporarily blocked federal funding of hESC research. The case is now before the D.C. Circuit, which is expected to issue a decision in 2012.
Co-plaintiffs James L. Sherley, M.D., Ph.D., an adult stem cell researcher at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher, Ph.D., managing member and R&D director of AVM Biotechnology, have argued that the hESC research permitted by NIH issued guidelines “inevitably creates a substantial risk—indeed, a virtual certainty—that more human embryos will be destroyed in order to derive more hESCs for research purposes.” That risk, they have contended, violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment of 1996, which holds that it is illegal to use federal funds for research “in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero.”