August 25, 2010
On Tuesday, Federal District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth issued a preliminary injunction which prohibits the federal government from funding any and all human embryonic stem cell research citing a pending lawsuit that contends that embryonic stem cell research violates the so called Dickey-Wicker provision. The Dickey-Wicker provision bars funding 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 research”.
NIH Director Francis Collins provided details of the impact of the ruling, based on an interpretation by the Department of Justice. According to Dr. Collins, ongoing research (totaling around $131 million) that has already been funded will continue, undisrupted, until it reaches the point of renewal. Projects that are in review, even if they have been scored, or that are up for renewal, will be halted immediately, and applications will no longer be reviewed. NIH has also ceased reviewing applications for new embryonic stem cells lines. It remains unclear whether no-cost extensions of existing ESC projects would be allowed.
In addition to the problem presented by Dickey-Wicker, AAU is concerned about the findings related to the competitive status of the two adult stem cell researchers serving as plaintiffs in this case. The researchers were granted standing on the basis that they must compete for funds with ESC researchers. Judge Lamberth’s ruling goes a step further by declaring that these researchers suffer irreparable harm due to this competition. (He also determined that blocking federal funding would not do irreparable harm to ESC researchers.) This could have far-reaching – although not immediate – implications for all federally-funded peer-reviewed research, as it could effectively empower any researcher to sue a research agency over “unfair competition”.