* Research up for review to be frozen
* Ruling stops promising area of research, Collins says
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON, Aug 24 A federal injunction against
funding human embryonic stem cell research came as a shock, but
will not stop more than $130 million worth of ongoing research,
National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said
Collins said researchers who already have their grants in
hand can continue with their work, despite the ruling that NIH
funding violates the so-called Dickey-Wicker amendment that
bars the use of taxpayer dollars to destroy human embryos.
The Justice Department said on Tuesday the Obama
administration will appeal the ruling. Justice Department
spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters the administration will
ask the U.S. Court of Appeals to lift the preliminary
injunction issued on Monday. [ID:nN24276123]
Before the appeal was announced, Collins said research
proposals in the queue would be frozen.
A U.S. district court issued the preliminary injunction on
Monday in a slap to the Obama administration's new guidelines
on the sensitive issue. [ID:nN23213610]
"Frankly, I was stunned, as was virtually everyone at NIH,
by the judicial decision yesterday," Collins told reporters in
a telephone briefing.
But a quick check shows money already out the door cannot
be pulled back -- a total of $131 million worth of grants,
"We are reassuring those who already have grants that were
funded that they can continue with their research," he said.
In one of his first acts after taking office in 2009,
President Barack Obama issued an executive order that said the
federal government could pay for work done using human
embryonic stem cells, without actually paying for the task of
making the cells using days-old human embryos.
He directed NIH to come up with an ethical process for
paying for research that made sure, in part, that the embryos
used came from fertility clinics and were destined to be thrown
away otherwise. The goal was to answer critics who felt human
lives, however tiny, were at risk.
The court ruling suggests this is not enough, and Collins
said the impact will be profound.
"This decision has the potential to do serious damage to
one of the most promising areas of biomedical research, and
just at the time that we were beginning to gain momentum,"
"Human embryonic stem cell research, done responsibly and
ethically, is one of the most exciting opportunities to come
along in a long time. And in just the last year we have made so
much progress in getting this area expanded."
Collins said 50 applications being considered for federal
funding were now being pulled out of the stack.
"Very promising research will not get done," Collins said.
He said researchers would become discouraged and some may even
leave the United States to do their work.
The suit was filed by two researchers who work with
so-called adult stem cells, which are a different kind of stem
cell found throughout the body, which are also considered
promising. Collins said the NIH pays for much more adult stem
cell research than embryonic stem cell research.
Collins said he cannot answer the legal merits of the case
but said NIH and the Health and Human Services Department were
working to fight back. "There are a lot of people who thought
they were going to be on vacation working very hard," he said.
Earlier, White House spokesman Bill Burton said the Obama
administration was exploring all possible avenues.
"The president said very plainly when he laid out his stem
cell policy that this is important, potentially life-saving
research that could have an impact on millions of Americans and
people all around the world. He thinks that we need to do
research. He put forward stringent ethical guidelines and he
thinks that his policy is the right one," Burton said.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)