Here's an interesting post/commentary from Nature News on the aftermath of the suit that sought to prevent the NIH from funding embryonic stem cell work. Even though for now, the court seems to have made it very clear that NIH can fund embryonic stem cells science -- the damage may have been done. The temporary injunction and resulting legal turmoil caused some scientists to leave the field permanently.
"Things have changed permanently. It's not just going to go back to the way it was — not immediately," says Meri Firpo, who researches stem-cell therapies at the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute in Minneapolis.
Candace Kerr, a stem-cell scientist at the Institute for Cell Engineering at Johns Hopkins University had NIH funding for human embryonic stem-cell work at the time of the shutdown, but has since moved entirely to work with induced pluripotent stem cells. She has no plans for future studies on human embryonic stem cells. "The shock of what happened last year, coming out of nowhere, makes us really sceptical about moving forward," says Kerr.
Scepticism appears to be a rational response. Three presidential administrations had interpreted the Dickey-Wicker amendment to permit funding for research on lines of human embryonic stem cells, but not for the creation of such lines, which requires destruction of embryos. In 2001, President Bush restricted the funding to research involving a small number of existing lines. President Obama, lifted this restriction in 2009, prompting the approval of dozens of new stem-cell lines. Then the suit by opponents of the research which resulted in a temporary stoppage of work pending resolution of the legal issues.
Last week, constrained by the appeals-court decision, the orignal trial Judge Lamberth rejected the plaintiff's lawsuit. His written opinion attacked all of the plaintiffs' key arguments, finding that the Dickey–Wicker amendment's wording is "ambiguous" and that the NIH's interpretation that it allows funding of human embryonic stem-cell research is "reasonable".
Nonetheless, human embryonic stem-cell research remains vulnerable. The current US Congress is so politically divided it is unlikely to enact a law either explicitly permitting or explicitly prohibiting government funding for the research. And, nothing in this decision and nothing in the Dickey–Wicker amendment stops a new president from quashing research simply by refusing to fund it.
There you have it: a victory for proponents of embryonic stem cell research. Or is it? With the continued environment of uncertainty, will enough researchers commit to developing the field's potential — or will they be put off by the lawsuit's lingering shadow? That's the lingering question.
Posted by Bruce Lehr Aug 2nd 2011.