By Terry Baynes
Jan 7 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused
to review a challenge to federal funding of human embryonic stem
cell research brought by two researchers who said the U.S.
National Institutes of Health rules on such studies violate
The decision brings an end to a lawsuit that had threatened
to hamper stem cell research after a district court judge
blocked the taxpayer funding in 2010. But some observers
expected the Supreme Court would decline the take the case after
an appeals court ruled that the funding could continue.
U.S. law prohibits the NIH from funding the creation of
human embryos for research or research in which human embryos
are destroyed, but leaves room for debate over whether that
includes work with human embryonic stem cells.
Opponents of such research, including many religious
conservatives, have argued that it is unacceptable because it
destroys human embryos.
Scientists hope to be able to use stem cells to find
treatments for spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes and
diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Shortly after taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama
issued an executive order that expanded federal funding for
research involving human embryonic stem cells in hopes it would
lead to cures for diseases. The administration limited the
funding to research on stem-cell lines derived from embryos that
come from fertility clinics and were going to be thrown away
Two researchers who work with adult stem cells, James
Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research
Institute, and Theresa Deisher, of Washington-based AVM
Biotechnology, sued in 2009 to block such research. They argued
that they were at risk of being squeezed out of federal grants
for their own work with adult stem cells, which does not involve
the destruction of embryos.
A federal judge in 2010 blocked the NIH from funding
embryonic stem cell research, but a three-judge panel of the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
overturned that decision last year.
The appeals court recognized that the law was ambiguous but
deferred to NIH's interpretation that it could fund research
using stem cells from embryos that were not actually destroyed
in the course of that research.
Asking the Supreme Court to review the case, the researchers
said that the NIH had a duty to respond to over 30,000 public
comments on the proposed guidelines before adopting them.
A lawyer for the researchers did not immediately comment on
the court's refusal to take the case, and the Justice Department
did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tony Mazzaschi, a director at the Association of American
Medical Colleges, said he was gratified but not surprised that
the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. He said the
researchers' petition raised narrow, procedural questions rather
than the fundamental issue of whether the law allows NIH to fund
"It's great news for the medical schools that really want to
invest in this area of research," Mazzaschi said.
The case is Sherley v. Sebelius, U.S. Supreme Court, No.