Federal stem cell ruling blocks Yale scientists

For two decades, Lawrence Rizzolo, the director of medical studies at the Yale School of Medicine, has been working toward a project that aims to transplant young, healthy retinal cells to replace diseased tissues in the eyes of patients who are going blind.

But now Rizzolo fears he may have to delay, or even stop, his research because of last week’s ruling by a federal judge that prevents federal funding for studies involving embryonic stem cells, the building blocks for human organs and tissues that Rizzolo needs for his project.

Rizzolo had applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to replace his funding from the nonprofit International Retinal Research Foundation, which ends in December. Rizzolo also has a three-year state grant from Rocky Hill, Conn.-based state holding company Connecticut Innovations, but he says he cannot continue his research without the federal funding.

Rizzolo’s laboratory is one of about a dozen facilities on campus that use stem cells. Haifan Lin, director of the Yale Stem Cell Center, said he did not yet know how the moratorium will affect Yale researchers.

“We’re all waiting for clarification on the implications of the judge’s ruling,” University President Richard Levin said.

But frozen funding could lead scientists to lose their jobs. Rizzolo said that although a fourth researcher will join his laboratory in October, he may soon have to fire his workers because the grants and not the University pay for his researchers’ salaries.

Although the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a motion seeking to delay the federal judge’s ban on funding, the relief would only be temporary, NIH spokesman Don Ralbovsky said. The Justice Department declined to comment Thursday.



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