June 25, 2010 / 4:47 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. appeals court reinstates stem cell suit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday reinstated a lawsuit that challenges an Obama administration policy for federal funding of some human embryonic stem cell research.

The unusual suit against the National Institutes of Health, backed by some Christian groups opposed to embryo research, argued that the NIH policy takes funds from researchers seeking to work with adult stem cells.

It also argues that new Obama administration guidelines on stem cell research are illegal.

The three-judge federal appeals panel did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit itself, but said two of the doctors involved had legal standing to file it.

A federal district court had earlier rejected the lawsuit, saying the challengers had no standing.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells. There are several kinds, including those taken from days-old human embryos, which can give rise to all the cells and tissues in the body.

Some people oppose working with human embryonic stem cells, but President Barack Obama’s administration reversed a policy that severely limited federal funding of such work.

The NIH will now pay for research using the cells, although it will not pay for the actual process of making the cells, which does involve human embryos. The use of federal funds to pay for the destruction of human embryos is forbidden by law.

The NIH also funds work with so-called adult stem cells, immature cells found throughout the body.

Dr. James Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute who opposes the use of embryonic stem cells, had argued that the guidelines violated the law by permitting research on stem cells derived from human embryos and would harm their work by increasing competition for limited federal funding.

Sherley and Theresa Deisher of Washington-based AVM Biotechnology were joined in their challenge by the Christian Medical Association, which opposes federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, and an adoption agency called Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which had argued that the guidelines reduced the number of embryos available for use in adoption.

Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Maggie Fox; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Vicki Allen

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