Senator Specter Introduces Fix to Stem Cell Ban

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

As Congress returned from recess yesterday, a long-time champion of biomedical research introduced the first proposal to override the 23 August court ruling that shut down federal funding for human embryonic stem cell (hESC) for 17 days and could soon halt research again.

Like some previous bills, Senator Arlen Specter (D–PA)'s bill (S. 3766) codifies the Obama Administration's policy requiring that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) fund work on only hESC lines derived from leftover embryos donated by couples at fertility clinics. But Specter's bill goes further by citing the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds to harm or destroy human embryos. Last month's preliminary injunction came after a federal judge found that NIH's stem cell guidelines violate the Dickey-Wicker rule. But the Specter bill states that Dickey-Wicker (which passes each year as part of the appropriations bill funding NIH) and any future similar amendments would not apply to hESC research:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, including section 509 of division D of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 or any substantially similar provision in any previous or subsequent Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, the Secretary shall conduct and support research that utilizes human stem cells, including human embryonic stem cells.

Whether the bill would solve the Dickey-Wicker conundrum and negate Judge Royce Lamberth's ruling isn't yet clear. Expect more discussion of possible legislative solutions on Thursday at a hearing called by Senator Tom Harkin (D–IA), where NIH Director Francis Collins and hESC researchers will testify.

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