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Government will appeal injunction against stem cell funding

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Judge stops stem cell federal funding
  • NEW: NIH head "stunned" by judge's ruling
  • A federal judge ordered a temporary injunction on Monday
  • The ruling was a blow to the Obama administration
  • An appeal is expected later this week

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration will appeal a federal judge's decision to temporarily block federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller confirmed Tuesday.

An appeal is expected to be filed later this week asking the court to lift the injunction ordered Monday, according to Miller.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth was a blow to the Obama administration, which last year issued guidelines to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

On Tuesday, the director of the National Institutes of Health said he was stunned by Lamberth's decision to order a temporary injunction.

"This will mean very promising research will not get done, screening for new drugs will stop, and researchers who have been energized will likely grow discouraged and move to other countries or on to other research," Dr. Francis Collins told reporters.

Collins said 50 new grant applications up for peer review will be pulled. In addition, 12 grants worth an estimated $15 million to $20 million that have already gone through initial review will be halted, along with another 22 grants totaling $54 million that already are under way and scheduled for annual review in September, Collins said.

Monday's ruling involved a lawsuit against the NIH filed by researchers opposed to use of embryonic stem cells, a group that seeks adoptive parents for human embryos created through in vitro fertilization, the nonprofit Christian Medical Association and others.

Lamberth's ruling stops the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research while the lawsuit proceeds through the legal system.

In his ruling, Lamberth said he was granting the injunction because of the likelihood that the lawsuit will succeed.

The ruling said all embryonic stem cell research involves destroying embryos, which violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment included in federal spending bills.

"The Dickey-Wicker Amendment unambiguously prohibits the use of federal funds for all research in which a human embryo is destroyed," said the ruling by Lamberth, who was nominated to the federal bench by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1987. "It is not limited to prohibit federal funding of only the 'piece of research' in which an embryo is destroyed. Thus, if ESC [embryonic stem cell] research is research in which an embryo is destroyed, the guidelines, by funding ESC research, violate the Dickey-Wicker Amendment."

The field of embryonic stem cell research has been highly controversial because in most cases the research process involves destroying the embryo, typically four or five days old, after removing stem cells. These cells are then blank and can become any cell in the body.

Embryonic stem cell research differs from other kinds of stem cell research, which don't require embryos.

Some scientists believe embryonic stem cells could help treat many diseases and disabilities, because of their potential to develop into many different cell types in the body.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order in March 2009 that repealed a Bush-era policy limiting federal dollars for human stem cell research. Obama's act permitted the National Institutes of Health to conduct and fund studies on embryonic stem cells.

While some advocates praised the executive order as a giant step forward for medical research, conservatives groups objected, contending that the destruction of human embryos ends human life.

Ron Stoddart, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions -- one of the groups that filed the lawsuit -- said he supported adult stem cell research that doesn't require destroying embryos.

"Frequently people will say, 'Why are you opposed to stem cell research?' and of course are answer is, we're not," Stoddart said. "We're opposed to the destruction of the embryos to get embryo stem cells."

In a statement Monday, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research said it was disappointed by the injunction granted "in response to the latest maneuver by an ideologically driven fringe group."

"We have full confidence that the extensive, deliberative process that shaped federal guidelines now in place will be upheld upon further review," the group's statement said.

CNN's Saundra Young contributed to this report.