A judge has temporarily blocked the federal funding of embryonic stem cell (ESC) research in the United States, warning that it went against federal law.
The ban represents a blow to Barack Obama who caused a storm of controversy last year when he issued guidance allowing the use of federal funds to be expanded for the contentious research.
ESC research is highly controversial because, unlike research into adult stem cells, it involves the destruction of human embryos.
The ban, which will remain in place while the lawsuit progresses through the legal system, follows a legal challenge by a coalition of opponents who warned that the use of taxpayers’ money for ESC research violated federal law.
Earlier this week Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled that ESC research did indeed violate federal law.
Judge Lamberth said: “The Dickey-Wicker Amendment unambiguously prohibits the use of federal funds for all research in which a human embryo is destroyed”.
He added: “It is not limited to prohibit federal funding of only the ‘piece of research’ in which an embryo is destroyed.”
The decision was welcomed by pro-lifers.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said that the ruling was “a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration and its attempts to circumvent sound science and federal law.”
And Rod Stoddart, Executive Director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, one of the groups behind the legal challenge, said: “Frequently people will say why are you opposed to stem cell research and of course our answer is, we’re not”.
“We’re opposed to the destruction of the embryos to get embryo stem cells.”
The US Justice Department has said that they will appeal against the decision.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research said that it was disappointed at the decision.
In a statement the group said: “We have full confidence that the extensive, deliberative process that shaped federal guidelines now in place will be upheld upon further review”.
There are already over 100 treatments using adult stem cells which do not involve the destruction of human embryos.
The controversial nature of embryonic stem cell research led former President George W Bush to impose a ban on the federal funding of research into new stem cell lines in 2001.
President Bush argued that he was defending human life, but this ban was overturned by President Obama in March 2009.
Earlier this month it was revealed that stem cells derived from human embryos were set to be used on people for the first time in a series of clinical trials on those suffering from spinal cord injuries.
Geron, a California based biotech company, was granted permission to begin trials on patients left paralysed by spinal cord injuries by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Scientists believe that injecting a substance known as GRNOPC1, which is derived from embryonic stem cells, into a patient’s spine will trigger the regrowth of damaged nerve cells and eventually allow the patient to recover feeling and movement.