The research institute that is home to the controversial adult stem cell researcher James Sherley was granted permission today to officially join those opposing Sherley’s courtroom-based attempt to quash US government funding for human embryonic stem cell research. The decision comes one week before key court arguments.
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. 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 Sherley’s home institute sign on to that argument.
The BBRI, in requesting the permission, argued that patients would experience a “severe adverse impact” if government funding for the research was halted. It also said that its 25 prinicpal investigators and other scientific staff would be hobbled by the institute’s inability to draw National Institutes of Health funding for its programme 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 dystrohy, a disease in which the institute specializes.
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). Government lawyers will argue that 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.