Stem cell research began with a goal of being able to cure persons based on their own unique genetic make-up and healing inefficiencies by using harvested cells. This week, a federal appeals court said the Obama led federal government can continue to fund research involving human embryonic stem cells. The 2-1 ruling overturned a trial judge's injunction in August 2010 that barred funding for the research. Since 1996 and the last Bush Administration, Congress has barred federal funds for research in which human embryos are destroyed.
There are enormous scientific challenges, but the most debated points of discussion, government intervention and personal doubt, come from intense ethical inclusions such as privacy, consent and at times the withdrawal of that consent to use embryos for example in this evolving treatment application.
One of President Barack Obama's first acts on science policy after taking office was to expand stem-cell research beyond limits set by President George W. Bush in August 2001. While Mr. Bush had limited research on embryonic stem cells to a small number of then-existing cell lines, Mr. Obama in March 2009 opened up federal funding to research using cells derived from embryos that were created by in-vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed.
Supporters of the research say the stem cells, which can develop into any type of body tissue, could help treat ailments from diabetes to heart disease. There is a tremendous amount of preclinical testing that still needs to be done however, despite court ordered pauses in research or not.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said:
"My hope is that the legal wrangling ends here. Because if the last few years have proven anything, it is that our fight to preserve funding for stem cell research,one of the most promising areas of medical research available today, must continue."
Treatments utilizing a variety of therapeutic options are potentially available, and seem to all be very promising. There is evidence supporting the therapeutic use of stem cells for acute and chronic diseases, but the adaptation of preclinical work to in-practice clinical application is a key challenge to the work as the results of several randomized clinical trials indicate.
Opponents question the morality of using cells derived from embryos in a process that destroys them, saying that amounts to taking a human life.
The court majority this week, and in an opinion by Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, said that barring the funding would be a substantial blow to researchers.
Samuel B. Casey, a lawyer for the plaintiffs who oppose the research, said the ruling was a narrow one on the question of a preliminary injunction and didn't address most parts of the case:
"Scientists have pushed for federal funds to support embryonic stem-cell science because they believe it offers great promise in treating a host of diseases through tissue transplantation primarily. Privately funded research has continued, but federal money is the biggest source of funding for such projects. "
The National Institute of Health spent $1.4 billion on stem-cell research in 2010, including both embryonic and nonembryonic stem cells. The more-optimistic predictions about medical breakthroughs have failed to pan out so far, as scientists struggle to turn the basic research into practical therapies.
Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health stated:
"This is a momentous day not only for science but for the hopes of thousands of patients and their families who are relying on N.I.H.-funded scientists to pursue life-saving discoveries and therapies that could come from stem cell research."
Read the 34 page reversal document in its entirety HERE.
Written by Sy Kraft