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Appeals court gives Obama adm. stem-cell victory

From NBC's Pete Williams
In a victory for the Obama administration, a federal appeals court panel has lifted an injunction on the use of federal money to pay for research using embryonic stem cells.

Since 1996, Congress has banned the use of federal funds for research in which embryos were destroyed. President Obama acted to expand the use of stem cells by permitting the federal government to support research only on the stem cells themselves -- not the actual gathering of the cells from embryos, a policy which the administration said was entirely consistent with the law. But last year, a federal judge in Washington ruled that because embryos must be destroyed to get those cells, the congressional limitation bans using federal money on anything done with the cells later.

Today, by a 2-1 vote, the appeals court threw that injunction out, finding that the congressional research limitation is ambiguous. The federal government, it said, "seems reasonably to have concluded" that although the congressional ban blocks funding for the destructive act of deriving a stem cell from an embryo, it does not prohibit funding a research project in which such a cell will be used.

The government allows research using only stem cells derived from embryos that were created by in vitro fertilization for reproductive purposes and would otherwise be destroyed.

Last year's injunction threatened about 200 research projects that relied on federal money already granted. Because these grants were renewed every year, many of the researchers said they'd have to stop when the money ran out.

The National Institutes of Health is expected to comment on today's ruling later in the day.