Published: Aug 24, 2010 10:23 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 25, 2010 4:31 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government quickly will appeal a court ruling that undercut federally funded embryonic stem cell research, the Obama administration declared Tuesday. Still, dozens of experiments aimed at fighting spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease and other ailments probably will stop in the meantime.

The White House and scientists said Monday's court ruling was broader than first thought because it would prohibit even the more restricted stem cell research allowed for the past decade under President George W. Bush's rules.

The Justice Department said an appeal is expected this week of the federal judge's preliminary injunction that disrupted an entire field of science.

That initial ruling will not stop all the work that scientists call critical to finding new therapies for devastating diseases. The National Institutes of Health told anxious researchers late Tuesday that if they already have received money this year — $131 million has been doled out — they can keep doing their stem cell experiments.

But 22 projects that were due to get $54 million worth in yearly checks in September "will be stopped in their tracks," said NIH Director Francis Collins, which means a waste of the millions those scientists already have spent unless they can find private dollars to keep the stem cells alive. Dozens more proposals will not get a hearing pending the court case's conclusion.

"This decision has just poured sand into the engine of discovery," Collins said.

However, the ruling drew praise from the Alliance Defense Fund, a group of Christian attorneys who helped with the lawsuit filed by two researchers against the administration rules.

"The American people should not be forced to pay for experiments prohibited by federal law that destroy human life. The court is simply enforcing an existing law passed by Congress that prevents Americans from paying another penny for needless research on human embryos," said Steven H. Aden, the group's senior legal counsel.

President Barack Obama, who last year ordered an expansion of stem cell research, "put forward stringent ethical guidelines, and he thinks that his policy's the right one," Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters Tuesday.

Asked if it might take new legislation from Congress to counter the ruling from U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, Burton said the administration was exploring all avenues "to make sure that we can continue to do this critical lifesaving research."

How quickly any appeal could go through may determine how much is lost permanently.

"These cells are notoriously finicky, and you have to take care of them every day. You can't just lock up a lab and walk away for two weeks and come back and everything's fine," said Dr. Jonathan Moreno, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, where scientists were scrambling to tell which projects had to halt and which did not.

If it takes "months to settle the legal wrangling, then we will just end our work," said Dr. Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology, whose lab is studying embryonic stem cells in hopes of reversing a serious intestinal birth defect.

Already, one leading stem cell researcher had shifted gears: At Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard researcher Dr. George Daley told his team to assume they could not use any of millions of dollars in government grant money to nurture the embryonic stem cells growing in his lab but must keep those cells alive by using equipment bought with private funds.

Lamberth temporarily blocked on Monday government financing of embryonic stem cell research, ruling that the pending lawsuit against the Obama policy was likely to succeed in its argument that such research violates the intent of a law that prohibits use of federal money in work that destroys an embryo.