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Iowa’s Tom Harkin: stem cell decision ‘a victory for patients’

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin reacted to news Friday that an appellate court overturned a ban of federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, noting that it protects the ability of scientists to continue to explore possible medical advances.

“On behalf of all the scientists and researchers on the forefront of stem cell research and the countless families impacted by the potential cures this research offers, we celebrate that the tide is turning in our favor,” said Harkin.

Harkin, who has long led the fight to advance stem cell research, leads the appropriations subcommittee that funds medical research and the Senate health committee.

“This ruling, based on the merits, protects the ability of scientists to continue to explore the promise of stem cell research. My hope is that the legal wrangling ends here. because if the last few years have proven anything, it is that our fight to preserve funding for stem cell research — one of the most promising areas of medical research available today — must continue,” he said.

In March 2009, President Barack Obama lifted the Bush administration’s eight-year ban on federal funding for the research, but on in August 2010 U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth issued a temporary injunction on the expansion. The judge issued a 15-page decision in the case — which was initially brought by a former MIT scientist and others who hold values-based objections to stem cell research — and decided that regulations to expand federal funding for the research violated a law that prohibits destruction of embryos for research purposes.

The judge also ruled that such an expansion would harm less controversial adult stem cell researchers, such as the MIT scientist who brought the case, who would be forced to compete for federal funding.

In a 2-to-1 decision Friday, a federal appellate panel in Washington overturned Lamberth’s order.

The White House, unsurprisingly, immediately praised the new ruling, saying that “responsible stem cell research has the potential to treat some of our most devastating diseases and conditions and offers hope to families across the country and around the world.”

The appellate court said that the injunction would provide a significant hardship on stem cell researchers at the National Institutes of Health, specifically because it would adversely impact multi-year studies that had already begun. That Congress had chosen to reauthorize the 1996 law protecting embryos while in full knowledge that stem cell research was taking place, according to the court, was proof that Congress hadn’t intended to outlaw such study.

An estimate from the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine Stem Cell Group at the time of Lamberth’s ruling was that the injunction would cost the facility roughly $110,000 because it only applied to very specific type of stem cell research.

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Mount Vernon), who represents the District in which the medical research facility resides, also praised the court’s decision.

“For more than 100 million Americans that suffer from cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other debilitating diseases and disorders, this decision holds great promise. Overturning this ban will enable our scientists and researchers to work toward new cures and treatments for life altering and threatening diseases, and vastly improve the quality of life for so many Americans,” Loebsack said.

(Editor’s Note: This report was updated at 1 p.m. to include the statement by U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack.)

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