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Stem Cell Research Gets a Reprieve

A federal appeals court has ruled that NIH can continue to fund embryonic stem cell research while the court examines a judge's order banning federal funding for the research, reports the New York Times' Gardiner Harris. In August, Judge Royce Lambeth ruled that federal money could no longer be used in embryonic stem cell research because it violated a legislative ban on government money being used to destroy embryos. NIH told researchers they could continue to use whatever funds they already had, but that planned reviews for new grants were being canceled. Now, Harris says, the ruling of the Appeals Court means NIH can provide $78 million to 44 researchers it had previously agreed to finance, and gives Congress time to consider new legislation that would render the ban, and Lambeth's ruling, moot.

At its Great Beyond blog, Nature says that hours after the Appeals Court ruling, NIH told its own researchers and staff to get back to work. "Unlike outside researchers who were allowed to continue on projects for which they had grant money in hand, NIH staff scientists were asked to immediately stop all work on human embryonic stem cells as of 30 August," Nature says. NIH also says that 24 existing grants due for their annual funding allotment this month will get fast-tracked, as will some new grants that could be funded for the first time. As funding could be blocked again as of September 20, when the court has heard arguments on the case, NIH has also given institute councils who were expecting to award additional funds after that date the go-ahead to expedite approval of the awards, Nature adds.