Yesterday, a U.S. district judge issued a preliminary injunction against the federal funding of any research conducted on stem cells derived from human embryos.

In his 15 page ruling, Judge Royce Lamberth said that the Obama administration's policy to expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell (ESC) research violated a 1996 law known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment.  The ruling does not block the government from taking the course to trial. 

The immediate implication of the ruling is not clear; the Department of Justice is expected to interpret the ruling shortly to clarify if ongoing federally funded ESC research must be modified or halted or if the injunction applies only to future awards.  Judge Lamberth might himself offer further clarification.

Despite the confusion there are immediate changes that will impact day-to-day activities in stem cell labs. Case in point, a New York Times article on the ruling quotes Children’s Hospital Boston Researcher George Q. Daley on the immediate aftermath: “I have had to tell everyone in my lab that when they feed their cells tomorrow morning, they better use media that has not been funded by the federal government.”

Aside from the inconvenience of tracing what money paid for what lab component, many experts believe the ruling puts stem cell science back to the point when embryonic stem cell research could only be federally funded on a limited number of stem cell lines, many of which have developed mutations and have been subject to feeding protocols that make them less suitable for research and absolutely unsuitable for use in humans.

The ruling means Congress may well return after Labor Day to a stem cell policy debate. I’d like to encourage readers to reach out to their federal elected officials to ensure that they understand how important it is for U.S. researchers to continue making the stem cell discoveries that could lead to cures for major diseases and how essential federal funding is to the basic science that enables those discoveries.  I would also like to emphasize the level of care with which scientists, doctors and patients have used to create best practices and regulations that govern their research with these cells, and the core value of respect for life and reduction of suffering that pervades their work with these cells.