Friday September 10, 2010

NIH Expedites Grants for Human Embryo Destroying Research

By Peter J. Smith

BETHSADA, Maryland, September 10, 2010 ( – The National Institute of Health (NIH) is expediting the grant process for outside researchers in human embryonic stem-cell (hESC) research, after the D.C. Court of Appeals gave them an emergency stay until September 20 on a judge’s order halting their work.

Thanks to the appeals court’s intervention, the NIH has decided to lift its suspension of all grants and contracts involving hESCs. However, according to Nature, Michael Gottesman, NIH’s deputy director for intramural research, advised those working on eight in-house hESC projects to use “prudence in resuming experiments” given the possibility that the court may decide to reinstate its injunction on the NIH’s funding of hESC research.

Sally Rockey, the NIH’s Deputy Director for Extramural Research, circulated an email recommending that NIH institute councils should fast-track grants for hESC research.

“Given the delay in their issuance, hESC awards should be given priority including non-competing continuations, and new and renewing competing awards,” Rockey said.

Rockey also recommended that NIH councils that were expecting to fund applicants after September 20 resort to an expedited approval process.

U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth for the District of Columbia ruled August 23 that human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research projects funded by the NIH violate an “unambiguous” U.S. statute, the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which prohibits federal dollars from going to research that destroys human embryos.

Lamberth issued a preliminary injunction that was temporarily stayed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals until at least September 20.

The U.S. Justice Department had sought a stay from Lamberth on the order, arguing “irreparable harm” would occur if NIH “is forced to cease all activities pertaining to [hESC] research that is subject to government funding.” Lamberth rejected those arguments, but the appeals court said it would re-examine arguments for the preliminary injunction while Lamberth continues to examine the case.

The appeals court is set to make a decision on whether to extend its emergency stay within days after the September 20 deadline. If the court extends the stay, it would last only until Lamberth makes his final judgment in the case, which may end in a permanent injunction on NIH funding hESC research. However, the appeals court may reinstate a stay when the case is appealed to them.

Two scientists involved in adult stem cell research, Drs. James Sherley of Boston and Theresa Deisher of Seattle, filed suit against the Obama Administration on the basis that the NIH was favoring hESC researchers, starving ethical researchers who do not engage in human embryo destroying research such as themselves for grants.

Attorneys with Advocates International (AI), Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher (GD&C), are representing the plaintiffs against the NIH, and have filed a comprehensive summary judgment motion with Lamberth’s court.

“We have asked the federal district court to permanently enjoin the government from implementing, applying, or taking any action whatsoever pursuant to the NIH Guidelines or otherwise funding research involving human embryonic stem cells as contemplated in the NIH Guidelines,” said chief trial counsel, Thomas Hungar of GD&C.

Hungar added that they have also asked the court to order the federal government to demand NIH grant recipients with remaining unspent funds for hESC research, to return them to the NIH “to fund lawful research.”

See related coverage by

Embryo Research Can Continue Pending Lawsuit: D.C. Appeals Court

Federal Judge Denies Obama Embryo Research Appeal

Congressmen Seek to Undermine Embryonic Stem Cell Ruling by Changing Law

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