Trump administration cuts funding for fetal tissue research

Henrietta Brewer
June 7, 2019

The Trump administration has said that it is ending multimillion-dollar government funding for medical research that uses tissue taken from aborted foetuses.

The change in protocol is a win for anti-abortion advocates who have made the end of human fetal tissue research a top priority.

It is not clear from the HHS announcement what criteria would have to be met for a research project using aborted fetal tissue in order to get approval from this ethics advisory board.

"This was the president's decision", said White House spokesman Judd Deere, adding that it was "another important policy.to protect the dignity of human life".

Abortion opponents say there are alternatives to fetal tissue.


The use of fetal tissue in biomedical research has always been opposed by social conservatives as a byproduct of abortion. The contract was for "research involving human fetal tissue from elective abortions", the agency said. Dozens of pro-life leaders and House members successfully pressured the FDA and HHS to terminate the contract, but concerns remained over almost $100 million in tax dollars that continued to pay for other research using tissue and organs from aborted babies.

In a statement announcing the move, HHS said that it was "continuing to review whether adequate alternatives exist to the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortions in HHS-funded research and will ensure that efforts to develop such alternatives are funded and accelerated".

Wednesday's announcement turns on its head an assurance to scientists late past year at an invitation-only NIH workshop on fetal tissue research. On Wednesday, the administration also said it is not renewing an expiring contract with the University of California, San Francisco, that used fetal tissue to create a human-like immune system in mice for HIV research.

And prior to that, in September, the HHS announced that it would be reviewing all government-funded fetal tissue research according to 'serious regulatory, moral and ethical considerations'.

Megan Thielking contributed reporting. As a result, NIH froze procurement of new tissue.


Advanced Bioscience Resources's contract, which was worth almost $16,000, was used to "develop testing protocols", by injecting the tissue into lab mice, according to HHS. The firm had been targeted by the same antiabortion activists who filmed undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials and heavily edited them in an attempt to discredit the organization.

In December, the National Institutes of Health informed a principal investigator at one of those labs - at UCSF - that it was withholding the next $2 million annual installment of a multiyear contract that is the lab's only source of funding.

But research using fetal tissue has led to lifesaving advances, including development of vaccines for rubella and rabies and drugs to treat HIV. The contract previously had been renewed annually and later in 90-day increments.

At the invitation-only workshop at NIH late past year, Giroir, who oversaw much of the audit, told participants that any alternative source of tissue "must be as predictive, as reliable and as validated as existing models", according to a scientist who was present. That is the funding that expires on Wednesday. Research at universities and work that is privately funded will be allowed to continue.

At a House hearing on the issue last December, neuroscientist Sally Temple told lawmakers the consensus opinion in the scientific community is that there is now no adequate substitute for fetal tissue in some research areas.


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