A judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to freeze federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, backing the Obama administration's push to ease restrictions on the controversial research technique.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth dimissed a legal challenge claiming that the National Institutes of Health's funding for stem cell research violated violated the 1996 Dickey-Wicker law, which prohibits taxpayer financing for work that harms an embryo. Lamberth had ruled a year ago to halt the funding but was rebuked by an appeals court; Wednesday's ruling essentially upheld that finding.

Obama removed a limitation on stem cell research, put in place by President George W. Bush, stipulating that the only cells eligible for research were those embryos that had already been destroyed. Obama also expanded the number of existing stem cell lines that could be available for research. Neither decision has yet resulted in using new stem cells for research.

Scientists hope to be able to use stem cells to find treatments for spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes and diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Opponents, many of them religious conservatives, argue that it is morally indefensible because it destroys embryos, although proponents counter that many of the cells used were from extra embryos that would have been discarded anyway.

Dr. James Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute, and Theresa Deisher, of Washington-based AVM Biotechnology had sued to block funding for embryonic stem cell research, arguing that it created unfair competition when they sought grants for adult stem cell research.