The U.S. Federal Court of Appeals has overturned an August 2010 limitation on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.  Since 2001, federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research had been limited to existing lines.  Private and state funding of hESC research was unimpeded and funding was allowed for lines that had already been created prior to 2001.   In 2009, Pres. Obama issued a memorandum lifting restrictions while cautioning that policies would have to be in place to prevent use in cloning and other unethical scenarios.    The guidelines issued in 2009 only allowed federal funding for research using hESCs derived from embryos created for in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed.

The divided ruling by the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth's 2010 ruling that barred federal funding for the research, stating that it violated a 1996 law signed by Pres. Clinton,  the Dickey-Wicker amendment,  that bars the use of federal money for research in which an embryo is destroyed.

Because the more militant sections of science seems to think it matters, all three judges in the appeal decision overturning Lamberth were appointed by Republican presidents.    The decision means funding cannot be restricted while the lawsuit makes its way through the court.  The Obama administration successfully argued the ban would undermine projects already allowed under existing laws.

Sherly v. Sebelius had argued that when the Obama Administration eased the restrictions on federal funding for hESC research in March 2009, it violated the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment which barred using taxpayer funds in any research that destroyed embryos.   The Appeals Court decision seems to put the Dickey-Wicker question to rest, ruling that the amendment was "ambiguous" and that the NIH "seems reasonably to have concluded that although Dickey-Wicker bars funding for the destructive act of deriving an ESC (embryonic stem cell) from an embryo, it does not prohibit funding a research project in which an ESC will be used," they wrote in the 2-1 decision.

While the only limitations on hESC research funding had always been at the federal level, the bulk of scientists in the last few decades receive money from federal organizations like the NIH so the ban was a significant blockade.   

Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at  University of California-San Francisco said UCSF has developed one of the largest programs in the nation, but it has been primarily funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a state initiative that provided $3 billion to fund statewide research in lieu of federal funding.   Funding from the NIH for the existing stem cell lines always allowed, private philanthropy and other sources have also been critical for the program.