(Abigail Alliance v. von Eschenbach)

WASHINGTON, PharmaLive.com, Aug. 7, 2007–Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in a 8-2 decision that terminally ill patients do not have a constitutional right to have access to life-saving drugs that are being tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in clinical trials where it already has been established that the experimental drugs are safe to use. The ruling by the full court, written by Judge Thomas Griffith, reversed an earlier 2-1 decision in favor of the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) and its client, the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs, that there is a right of access to such life-saving drugs.

“We’re obviously disappointed by the court’s ruling, but we believe that the strong dissent by Judge Judith Rogers, joined by Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg, will carry the day when we take the case to the Supreme Court,” said Paul Kamenar, WLF’s Senior Executive Counsel. “We think the dissenting opinion summed it up best: `Denying a terminally ill patient her only chance to survive without even a strict showing of government necessity [for denying access to the drugs] presupposes a dangerous brand of paternalism,'” Kamenar added.

WLF has long been in the forefront of challenging FDA regulations and policies that restrict patients’ right to life-saving drugs. WLF’s client, the Abigail Alliance, was founded in 2001 by Frank Burroughs whose daughter, Abigail, died of cancer in 2001 because she was denied access to drugs that her oncologist believed could save or prolong her life.

For further information, contact Paul Kamenar, WLF’s Senior Executive Counsel at 202-588-0302


Sean J. Morrison, Ph.D.

Adult stem cells are the body’s ultimate repair system. These immature cells maintain a low profile within tissues and organs until activated by disease or injury. Stem cells then can morph into specialized cells within their tissue of origin, and they also have the remarkable ability to replenish themselves through a process called self-renewal. Sean Morrison is unraveling the mechanisms that regulate stem cell function in the blood and nervous systems, particularly those involved in stem cell self-renewal and aging. The Morrison laboratory also compares the mechanisms that regulate stem cell self-renewal and cancer cell proliferation. Ultimately, Morrison hopes to identify new treatments for diseases caused by stem cell defects, including cancer, degenerative disease, and birth defects.

Morrison began his pioneering stem cell work only after a brief stint as a biotech entrepreneur. For his high school science fair project, the Canadian native developed a hydroponically grown fungal fertilizer that dramatically increased the nutrient uptake in plants. The fertilizer attracted the interest and support of the Canadian government and Dalhousie University in Halifax, where he attended college. But when the project failed to garner enough venture capital at a critical point, Morrison shifted gears, opting instead for a career in medical research. He was fascinated by the process of discovery and the elegance he found in well-conceived research. “The best scientists are like artists in the sense that they are constantly motivated by the challenge of doing more and more beautiful work,” Morrison explains. “They push themselves to generate the most beautiful data and to perform the most elegant experiments. The best scientists find beauty and satisfaction in the process.”

As a graduate student, Morrison identified key markers that distinguish hematopoietic stem cells, which give rise to blood and immune system cells, from other immature hematopoietic cells. He determined that stem cells are fundamentally different from other immature cells, and his results also suggested that certain factors are involved in regulating stem cell self-renewal. Later, as a postdoctoral fellow in the Caltech laboratory of David Anderson, a fellow HHMI investigator, Morrison became the first to isolate uncultured neural crest stem cells, which give rise to the peripheral nervous system. This led to his discovery that stem cells persist throughout adult life in the peripheral nervous system, where they were not previously believed to exist.

Today, Morrison’s research focuses on neural crest stem cells and hematopoietic stem cells. By studying both, he hopes to understand the extent to which mechanisms that control self-renewal and other critical functions are conserved among stem cells in different tissues. Along those lines, Morrison in recent years has discovered that the gene Bmi-1 is required for the self-renewal of neural stem cells from the central nervous system and all other types of adult stem cell examined so far. He also has traced a potentially fatal birth defect that causes Hirschsprung disease to defects in the generation and migration of neural crest stem cells in the developing intestines. And, using techniques he developed as a graduate student, Morrison recently identified a family of cell surface receptors that scientists can use to separate hematopoietic stem cells from other, less primitive, hematopoietic progenitors. Each of these studies has the potential to change the way in which patients are treated.

Morrison strongly believes in the potential of medical research. “The greatest opportunities to change medicine arise from fundamental scientific discoveries, and I believe those opportunities exist in stem cell biology,” he says. “Stem cell biology is so central to a variety of important scientific and clinical questions that it commands a lot of attention from researchers in diverse fields. That attracted me, because if I invest years of my life answering a question, I really want people to care what the answer is.”

Dr. Morrison is also Henry Sewall Professor in Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, Research Associate Professor at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute, and Director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology.


Sean Morrison is investigating the mechanisms that regulate stem cell function in the nervous and hematopoietic systems, particularly the mechanisms that regulate stem cell self-renewal and aging. Parallel studies of these mechanisms in stem cells from two different tissues will reveal the extent to which different types of stem cells employ similar or different mechanisms to regulate these critical functions.