Go back

Supreme Court won’t reconsider NIH stem cell research policy

The US Supreme Court will not hear a legal appeal intended to stop the National Institutes of Health from funding embryonic stem cell research, the court ruled on 7 January.

The two scientists behind the lawsuit have argued that Congress has prohibited federal support for any stem cell research that requires the destruction of a human embryo, including work on many existing stem cell lines.

Since 1996, federal appropriations have included language that bans the use of federal funds either to create a human embryo or to pursue research in which a human embryo is destroyed, discarded or injured. The Obama administration has interpreted that ban as not applying to existing embryonic stem cell lines, and the DC Circuit Court has upheld that view twice.

But the plaintiffs in the lawsuit in question have argued that the research guidelines adopted by NIH in 2009 to comply with President Obama’s Executive Order, which expanded the number of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines that could be used in government-sponsored studies, are illegal.

NIH’s director, Francis Collins, said he was “very pleased” with the highest court’s decision not to re-examine the lower’s court’s ruling.

“This decision allows the ruling to stand, and enables NIH to continue conducting and funding stem cell research, following the strict ethical guidelines put in place in 2009,” he stated.

Amy Comstock Rick, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, said the Supreme Court’s rejection of the case “brings an end to this long, unnecessary litigation”.

She called the ruling “a victory for scientists, patients, and the entire biomedical research community”, and said “science can now continue to move forward, knowing the threat to promising research and funding has been eliminated”.

NIH has 198 embryonic stem cell lines on its registry, up from just 21 in 2009 when the agency implemented the President’s Executive Order.

“Research using hESCs conducted under rigorous ethical standards continues to offer great promise in the search for cures and treatments for a variety of intractable diseases,” said the Association of American Medical Colleges’ president and CEO, Darrell Kirch. “With the legislative, regulatory, and legal barriers cleared, we hope the promise of hESC research can now be realised.”