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ASBMB releases statement expressing ‘supreme disappointment’ with stem cell ruling

CapitolThe American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology expresses its supreme disappointment with the decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to grant a preliminary injunction that will effectively put a halt to research on human embryonic stem cells in this country.  Not only will this ruling stall scientific progress and delay potential medical cures for millions of sick Americans, but it also poses a grave threat to the peer-review process used to evaluate funding proposals strictly on their scientific merit.  We urge Congress to act swiftly to pass legislation that will restore federal funding to embryonic stem-cell researchers while upholding peer-review-based scientific evaluation.

ASBMB previously has expressed its enthusiastic support for the government’s policies promoting stem-cell research.  We trust that the oversight provided by governmental guidelines, developed and enforced by the National Institutes of Health, ensures appropriate regulation of research practices while allowing scientific progress.  In addition, we fully support congressional efforts promoting human embryonic stem-cell research, in particular H.R. 4808, the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act of 2009, the contents of which have been approved by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers.  The guidelines promulgated in that bill, which simultaneously balance respect for ethical concerns and scientific advancement, will greatly expand the capacity for, and efficacy of, human embryonic stem-cell research. 

A broader, unintended consequence of this ruling strikes directly at the heart of the peer-review process used to identify the best scientific proposals.  Allowing the judicial system to determine the merits of particular types of research based on an argument of competitive disadvantage is a blatant disregard of the expert-based system that is the gold standard of scientific review.  Funding of basic biomedical research is not a zero-sum game in which particular lines of research are supported at the expense of others; rather, the system has evolved so that each proposal is evaluated on both its merits and its future benefits for easing the burden of disease.  Though the process is by nature competitive, it consistently has resulted in new biomedical methodologies and technologies that continue to benefit society at large.  Constraining funding to a limited subset of applications will doubtless limit discovery and hurt those who rely on those discoveries the most. 

This lawsuit represents a crossroads in American scientific policy.  We urge our leaders in Congress and the administration to move us down the right path.