Guest Blog by Luke Bouvier, PhD
On January 7, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Sherley vs. Sebelius, which effectively ends the legal challenge to the 2009 NIH Stem Cell Funding Guidelines. The Guidelines, which allow funding of most stem cell research, were challenged by two researchers who work with adult stem cells, James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, as a violation of U.S. law, which prohibits the NIH from funding research in which human embryos are destroyed. In 2010, a federal judge blocked the 2009 Guidelines, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed that decision in August of 2012, deferring to the NIH’s judgment that it could fund research on stem cells from embryos that are not actually destroyed during the research. The Supreme Court’s refusal to take up the case effectively upholds the Appeals Court decision and lifts the cloud of uncertainty over future stem cell research funding.
NIH Director Francis Collins welcomed the decision, stating that “patients and their families who look forward to new therapies to replace cells lost by disease or injury, or who may benefit from new drugs identified by screening using stem cells, should be reassured that NIH will continue supporting this promising research.” Likewise, Amy Comstock Rick, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, greeted the Court’s decision as “a victory for scientists, patients, and the entire biomedical research community,” noting that the NIH currently lists 198 stem cell lines on its registry, up from 21 in early 2009 when the NIH first implemented President Obama’s executive order lifting President Bush’s ban on funding for all but the most limited stem cell research. Bernard Siegel, spokesperson for the Stem Cell Action Coalition and Executive Director of the Genetics Policy Institute (GPI), applauded the decision as “a major victory for scientifically and ethically responsible innovative research” adding that while the legal challenge to the NIH’s 2009 guidelines is now over, “we must remain vigilant against threats at state and other policy-making levels.”