The fallout from yesterday's startling preliminary injunction against federal support for embryonic stem cell work hit within a matter of hours as the NIH quickly hit the brakes on plans to issue up to $74 million in fresh R&D funding. And scientists as well as biotech executives around the country were left pondering what work could continue and what would have to wait until the situation was resolved.
"This decision has just poured sand into this engine of discovery,'' said Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, who was left with little choice following a judge's decision to grant a preliminary injunction against federal support for work in the field. Collins told reporters that $54 million for renewed grants and up to $20 million for new work would now be put in limbo until the Justice Department can either get the injunction lifted or Congress can pass new legislation on the issue. Researchers can continue to use the $131 million in federal funding that has been handed out this year. And Collins added that the sudden clampdown put U.S. researchers at a big disadvantage to projects now underway overseas.
"This for me emphasizes just how important private philanthropy has been and will continue to be--it's the only durable and consistent source'' of funding, Douglas Melton, codirector of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, told the Boston Glone. "We're on this seesaw.''
The judge's decision centered on a little-known provision passed in 1996 prohibiting federal funding on R&D work that involved the destruction of embryos. As the feds didn't directly fund the destruction of embryos required for ESC experimentation, they had long felt that they were acting within the law. Now critics of the decision, including the New York Times, are urging lawmakers to act quickly.