National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins said in a press call this afternoon that yesterday's court injunction blocking federally funded research on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) will not affect grant payments that have already gone out the door this year. That's good news for scores of investigators who worried that their experiments would grind to a halt. But the injunction has forced NIH to freeze its reviews of new hESC grants, and it has jeopardized payments for more than 20 ongoing grants awaiting their annual payment in September.
Collins called the decision yesterday by the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., a "very unexpected development" that "stunned" NIH staff. It affects both lines approved under the 2009 Obama stem cell policy as well as those approved earlier by President George W. Bush, he said.
The consequences "are dramatic and far reaching," he said. Fifty grants awaiting peer review have been set aside; another dozen or so grants totaling $15 million to $20 million that had passed the first stage of peer review and were headed to NIH advisory councils will also be pulled aside. Another 22 grants, totaling $54 million in funding, that were up for annual renewal in September are also on hold. NIH also canceled a planned meeting today of an advisory board that was looking at whether to add more cell lines to those approved for NIH funding.
Another 200 or so grants totaling $131 million that had already been awarded this year are safe for now but could be at risk when they come up for their annual renewal in the coming months, Collins said.
Collins said the idea that ongoing hESCs projects could quickly find private funding sources "is not an idea that I think can be put forward without a good deal of skepticism."
The Department of Justice and other parts of the Obama Administration are still working on their responses to the decision, Collins said. "There are a lot of people who thought they were going to be on vacation working really hard," he said.
ScienceInsider was left with an unanswered question at press time: Will the two doctors who won the injunction challenge the Obama Administration's interpretation that it doesn't apply to grants that have already been funded this year?
For more on the stem cell ban, see our full coverage.