A US federal appeals court has ruled that government funding for embryonic stem cell research can go ahead, handing a major victory to President Barack Obama's administration.
Friday's ruling reverses a previous decision that said the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines was in violation of a 1996 law that prohibits the use of taxpayer's money to pay for research that destroys human embryos.
Opponents of human embryonic stem cell research, including many religious groups, find such research unacceptable - tantamount to abortion - because human embryos must be destroyed to obtain the stem cells.
Stem cells come from days-old human embryos and can produce any type of cell in the body - ideally meant to replace diseased cells.
Scientists hope to be able to use them to address spinal cord injuries, cancer and diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
The 2-1 decision said opponents of the research were not likely to win their battle in court, so funding should resume.
"We conclude the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail," read the decision by the US Court of Appeals in Washington, referring to a coalition of groups that challenged the legality of the research.
Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote that it was "entirely reasonable" for the NIH to interpret the law as "permitting funding for research using cell lines derived without federal funding, even as it bars funding for the derivation of additional lines."
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson said the federal law was clear about banning funding for human embryonic stem cell research and that the court majority was engaging in "linguistic jujitsu” by taking a straightforward case and issuing an unnecessarily complicated 21-page ruling.
The ruling was hailed by both the White House and the NIH, which allocated about $40 million to human embryonic stem cell research in 2010 and has set aside $125 million this year - a fraction of its $31 billion budget.
The White House said the ruling was a victory for scientists and patients.
"Responsible stem cell research has the potential to treat some of our most devastating diseases and conditions and offers hope to families across the country and around the world," Nick Papas, the White House spokesman, said.
Barack Obama, the US president, lifted a ban on federal funding for the research in March 2009. His predecessor George W Bush had blocked the government funding, citing religious grounds.
Larry Goldstein, the director of the stem cell programme at the University of California, told Al Jazeera: "The ruling will allow scientists to help understand and develop better treatments and is a real step forward in helping patients.”
He also said that "even though the early discoveries gives one cause for optimism, in science you can be sure that if you don’t do the research you won’t make progress. So you have to blaze the trail to figure out how to make progress on terrible problems in human disease."
Shortly after taking office in 2009, Obama expanded federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells in hopes it would lead to cures for diseases.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies