Stem cell plaintiff’s institute takes sides against him in court battle

Adult stem cell researcher James Sherley is suing the federal government to prevent the funding of embryonic stem cell research. Is Sherley a radical pro-life advocate? No, but he thinks that the funding of embryonic stem cell research great detracts from funding of adult stem cell projects.

Sherley’s home institute, the Boston Biomedical Research Institute (BBRI), last week asked the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit if it could join as a signatory to a friend-of-the-court brief filed in October by the state of Wisconsin, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research and The Genetics Policy Institute.

The BBRI, in requesting the permission, argued that patients would experience a “severe adverse impact” if government funding for the research was halted.  This is a remarkable assertion given that embryonic stem cell research has yet to treat a single human patient. It also said that its 25 principal investigators and other scientific staff would be hobbled by the institute’s inability to draw National Institutes of Health funding for its program in regenerative biology. Already, it said, it has been obliged to reject offers from a university and a foundation of human embryonic stem cells with mutations conferring muscular dystrophy, a disease in which the institute specializes.

Those groups argued that U.S. District Court judge Royce Lamberth was wrong on several legal points when he issued a preliminary injunction halting US-funded human embryonic stem cell research in August (the injunction has been temporarily stayed while the case is heard on its merits). Today, the Appeals Court allowed the BBRI to that argument.

The Watertown, Massachusetts-institute’s request to join the amicus brief came late in the process; one week from today, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments from lawyers representing Sherley and his co-plaintiff, Theresa Deisher, urging it to uphold the preliminary injunction on the grounds that US funding contravenes existing law (which forbids support for research in which embryos are destroyed).  Embryonic stem research does exactly that – destroys embryos.  Since the Dickey-Wicker amendment forbids such research, it seems to be a no brainer, but such is American politics.  Government lawyers will argue that upholding the injunction would cripple stem cell research and misinterpret that law, called the Dickey-Wicker amendment upholding the injunction would cripple stem cell research and misinterpret that law, called the Dickey-Wicker amendment.

The BBRI was at pains to highlight its request to join the case one week ago. The institute posted on its website both the text of its request to the appeals court and a letter to its executive director from the president of its board of trustees, noting that the board had unanimously decided to seek leave to join the case as a friend-of-the-court.