Scientists at the University of California at San Francisco on Friday hailed a ruling by a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., that allows broader federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
"This ruling allows critical research to move forward," USCF scientist Arnold Kriegstein said.
"It is a victory not only for the scientists but for the patients who are waiting for treatments and cures for terrible diseases," he said.
Kriegstein directs the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.
Today's 2-1 ruling by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upholds the Obama administration's interpretation of a federal law restricting stem cell research.
The law bans federal funding of research in which human embryos are destroyed.
The appeals court majority said the National Institutes of Health under President Barack Obama acted reasonably in interpreting the law to allow funding of research on stem cells taken from embryos that were previously destroyed.
NIH guidelines issued in 2009 said that such cells could include cells that were created through in vitro fertilization for the purpose of reproduction but were no longer needed for that purpose and were voluntarily given by their donors for research.
President George W. Bush, by contrast, had limited federal research funding to a small number of embryonic stem cell lines that were created before 2001.
Today's ruling overturns a preliminary injunction issued by a federal district judge in Washington, D.C., that kept the Bush administration's interpretation in place.
The decision was made in a lawsuit filed by two scientists who performed research only with adult stem cells and who argued that the broader rule impaired their ability to compete for NIH research funding.
Samuel Casey, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they are considering appealing to an expanded appeals court panel and to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
"Taxpayers shouldn't be forced to fund something that violates the consciences of many citizens," Casey said from his office in Virginia.
The dispute over federal restrictions does not apply to state funding of stem cell research in California. In 2004, California voters enacted an initiative authorizing a state agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, to grant $3 billion over 10 years for stem cell research.
The institute is based in San Francisco.
UCSF's stem cell research center gets much of its funding from the state institute and has thus far received a total of $112 million, according to the state institute's statistics.
But UCSF spokeswoman Kristen Bole said a majority of the university's stem cell researchers also get some NIH funding. The ruling means the state and federal research projects will no longer need to be kept separate but instead can be integrated, Bole said.
That will result in "more quickly addressing the causes and therapies for diseases," she said.