Stem cell researchers at the University and across the nation recently celebrated the July 27 dismissal of an appeal that had the potential to stop federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.
James Sherley, a researcher who studies adult stem cells, filed the original lawsuit in 2009, claiming the use of federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research from the National Institutes of Health was illegal.
Though Ivan Maillard, assistant professor of internal medicine and cell and developmental biology at the University, uses adult stem cells — also known as somatic stem cells — in his research, he said he believes most somatic stem cell researchers are in support of the dismissal because it provides more opportunities for stem cell related research.
“I think (Sherley’s view) is not representative of the broader stem cell research community,” Maillard said. “The broad stem cell research community is considering that the stem cell research is a whole and that you cannot separate somatic stem cell research from embryonic stem cell research, and that the two are very complementary.”
He added that while his research is not directly affected by the decision, information garnered from human embryonic stem cell research aids in his own research, especially since somatic stem cell research is widely researched at the University.
“All the different types of stem cell research are very complementary,” Maillard said. “So when you have a stem cell research program you derive information from labs that do research with embryonic stem cells and you derive information from labs that do work with the somatic stem cells … you cannot really separate these things artificially, they are really going hand-in-hand.”
Anna Paone, LSA junior and vice president of Students for Life, a pro-life student club on campus, said her organization does not approve of the dismissal but supports somatic stem cell research.
“Although the intentions of scientists carrying out this research are good, embryonic stem cell research itself is unethical and to that end we are discouraged about the dismissal.” Paone said.
Since NIH provides the majority of funding for human embryonic stem cell research in the country, Maillard said if the funding was halted, the University’s somatic stem cell researchers would have seen an interruption in their work.
Though embryonic stem cell research is still a developing field since United States President Barack Obama only recently loosened regulations in favor of it in 2009, Maillard said researchers hope to see embryonic stem cells being used to create somatic stem cells to better treat patients in the near future.
“What scientists and physicians are thinking about doing is not really to use the embryonic stem cells themselves to be by themselves implanted into the patient,” Maillard said. “What they want to do is to use the embryonic stem cells to derive a more mature population of somatic stem cells that are specialized to fix or repair a given tissue.”
Maillard added the dismissal of the suit not only instills confidence in the stem cell research field, it also keeps the United States competitive with other nations that are conducting similar research.
“It’s important that if the United States wants to remain a key player in the stem cell research program they have to (take a) comprehensive approach about it and there has to be some confidence that support for stem cell research programs will remain stable on the long term.”
The dismissal was also met with anticipation by Sean Morrison, director of the University’s center for Stem Cell Biology Research.
“We welcome Judge Lamberth’s decision in the Shirley versus Sebelius case,” Morrison said in a July 27 statement. “This ruling clears the way for the National Institutes of Health to continue funding critical embryonic stem cell research throughout the country.”