Obama administration to appeal stem cell injunction

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration will appeal a judge’s ruling that temporarily barred federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.

A microscopic view shows a colony of human embryonic stem cells (light blue) growing on fibroblasts (dark blue) in this handout photo released to Reuters by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, March 9, 2009. MANDATORY CREDIT REUTERS/Alan Trounson/California Institute for Regenerative Medicine/Handout

The administration will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to lift the preliminary injunction which was issued on Monday, Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth issued the injunction after determining that the two doctors who challenged the administration’s policy would likely succeed because U.S. law blocked federal funding of embryonic stem cell research that involved destroying embryos.

The White House said it was exploring “all possible avenues” to ensure such research could continue.

“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,” White House deputy spokesman Bill Burton told reporters in Massachusetts, where President Barack Obama is on vacation.

“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.

In 2001, then-President George W. Bush said he could only allow federal research money to pay for work done using a few batches of the powerful cells, which can give rise to all the tissues and cells in the human body.

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Obama reversed Bush’s stand with an executive order in 2009. Burton said the injunction also may stop the research allowed by Bush’s policy.

The appeals court has already dealt with the case once.

Judge Lamberth threw out the lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s policy last year because he did not find that the parties had the legal right to sue over it. But the appeals court in June disagreed and reinstated the case.

The doctors, who opposed embryonic stem cell research, were seeking grants to fund their work on adult stem cells and argued that the new policy on embryonic stem cells harmed their ability to win federal research money.

The injunction issued on Monday affects only federally funded research, not private research.

Embryonic stem cells come from days-old embryos and can produce any type of cell in the body. Scientists hope to be able to use them to address spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Opponents of human embryonic stem cell research say it is wrong, usually for religious reasons, to damage or destroy a human embryo.

Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Editing by David Storey