UC Appeals to Federal Court Over Stem Cell Decision

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The University of California filed a motion with the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals Monday, becoming the first research institution to try to intervene in the Sherley v. Sebelius suit that resulted in a controversial injunction blocking federally funded human embryonic stem cell research across the country.

A federal district court instituted a preliminary injunction in August, blocking federally funded embryonic stem cell research and evoking surprise throughout the research community. The injunction was subsequently lifted this month as the appeals court debates whether the ban on federal funding should be reinstated or if the federal funding will be allowed until a final decision is made.

In filing the motion, the UC - "the biggest grantee in the country," according to program manager for the Berkeley Stem Cell Center Lily Mirels - has asked to weigh in on the decision.

"Having a world-class research university to the appeals court will help the appeals court understand that the impact on the public is huge because the public has made a number of investments that are huge," said Ken Taymor, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy at UC Berkeley Law School.

While the stay allows federal funding to continue for now, Mirels said there is uncertainty as to whether the injunction will go into effect again. If it does, the university would have to discontinue embryonic stem cell research, which would affect graduate students and postdoctoral candidates who receive training and stipends while conducting research.

"The university has a commitment to these students ... If the training ground goes away, they have no source to pay it," Mirels said. "There's a large number of grad students and post-docs whose training and salaries are immediately on the line."

Arnold Kriegstein, director of UCSF's Developmental and Stem Cell Biology program, made a statement to the court Monday expressing the impact the ban would have.

"The problem is there is a threatened impact," Kriegstein said in an interview. "We had a brief glimpse at what the scope of the impact might be during the time the injunction was in effect."

Taymor said the court's ruling to stop federal funding was "erroneous," which he blames on the complexity of the science.

"It's easy to accept one person's argument or another person's argument when you're faced with complex science ... and haven't had adequate time to study it," Taymor said. "One of the oddities of the legal system is these district courts are called upon to make judgments that require looking at science."

While the UC was affected by the injunction, because the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and other private foundations provide funds for stem cell research, the effects were less than those felt in other states, Kriegstein said.

The future of the lawsuit is unclear - the appeal may or may not come to a trial, and there are no set dates for when decisions need to be made, said Taymor.

"Hopefully (the government) can turn (the decision) around at the district court level," Taymor said. "Regardless of what happens at the district court, you can count on the losing side appealing."


Contact Mary Susman at [email protected]

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