Order blocking government funding of stem cell research is a serious setback in search for cures.

American scientists have reacted with anger at a court ruling that strikes down U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to greatly expand medical research using stem cells taken from human embryos.

Scientists described the order by a federal judge in Washington, who said that the President had overstepped a law barring the government funding of research in which human embryos are destroyed, as “deplorable” and “a serious setback” in the search for cures to major diseases.

Lawyers for an alliance of Christian groups who brought the case, which tied opposition to experiments on embryonic stem cells to the anti-abortion campaign, said the ruling appeared to go further than restrictions under President George Bush and bar all government funding for such research. It also pushes the issue of abortion to the fore again in the runup to November's mid-term elections and presents Mr. Obama with the difficult choice of whether he wants a battle in the courts and in Congress to repeal the legislation.

The court order came after an executive order by Mr. Obama in March last year that lifted restrictions put in place by Mr. Bush eight years earlier. Those restrictions limited government funding to a small number of existing lines of human embryonic stem cells. The administration had allocated about $250 million to the research. The National Institutes of Health added an additional 70 lines after Mr. Obama's order. But Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that the President's decision was in conflict with the Dickey-Wicker amendment, a 1996 law that bars the use of government funds for “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed”.

Scientists swiftly condemned the ruling. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (Cirm) said the court order would disrupt advances in research for cures to diseases such as diabetes. “The decision is a deplorable brake on all stem cell research,” said Cirm's president, Alan Trounson. “Many discoveries with other cell types ... would not happen without ongoing research in human embryonic stem cells.” Steven Aden, a lawyer for the Alliance Defence Fund which brought the case, said: “We're gratified that the court accepted what we think is a plain and commonsense reading of the applicable law and we're hopeful that ultimately this will result in the renewal of good, science—based funding for adult stem cell research.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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