The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has stopped all of its internal research involving human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). The move came in response to a recent ruling by a federal court that halts federal funding of research involving hESCs. Lawyers at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees NIH, determined that the court's preliminary injunction applies to intramural research at the agency. Consequently, NIH researchers on eight projects have been forced to stop their work on hESCs.
The ban on federal funding of research involving hESCs is a result of a lawsuit filed by opponents of stem cell research. On 23 August, United States District Judge Royce C. Lamberth found that the government's policy on hESC research violates a federal law that bars the government from funding research that destroys human embryos. The judge directed the government to cease funding stem cell research, including intramural research at NIH, as well as future external research grants. NIH Director Francis Collins has reassured scientists whose work is already funded that they can continue their research.
The ban on hESC research will continue for the foreseeable future, despite an attempt by the Department of Justice to temporarily lift the ban. In a legal brief filed on 31 August, the government argued that the court's ban should be lifted "to avoid terminating research projects midstream, invalidating results in process, and impeding or negating years of scientific progress toward finding new treatments" for human ailments. Judge Lamberth ruled last week to keep the ban on hESC research in place: "Defendants are incorrect about much of their 'parade of horribles' that will supposedly result from this Court's preliminary injunction."
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