January 7, 2013 / 4:20 PM / in 5 years

U.S. high court will not review federal embryonic stem cell funds

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 federal law.

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.

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.

The case is Sherley v. Sebelius, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-454. (Reporting by Terry Baynes in New York; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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