In a blow to sci­ence, Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion aborts fed­er­al fund­ing for fe­tal tis­sue re­search

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s os­si­fied stance on re­pro­duc­tive rights is now set to in­ter­rupt sci­en­tif­ic re­search. On Wednes­day, med­ical re­search fund­ing for NIH sci­en­tists us­ing fe­tal tis­sue was abort­ed, along with a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar con­tract with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia that in­volves re­search us­ing fe­tal tis­sue de­rived from elec­tive abor­tions to test HIV ther­a­pies.

Fe­tal tis­sue, har­vest­ed from dead fe­tus­es — from in­duced or nat­ur­al abor­tions — is used as trans­plan­ta­tion ma­te­r­i­al or to cre­ate cell lines. These cell lines can be uti­lized to test a drug’s abil­i­ty to dam­age ge­net­ic ma­te­r­i­al or to test the ef­fects of spe­cif­ic vi­ral (or oth­er types) of in­fec­tion. Since fe­tal cells mul­ti­ply — a small num­ber de­rived from a dead fe­tus can be eas­i­ly ex­pand­ed and used ei­ther as a source of more cell lines or for trans­plants.

Sci­en­tists have long un­der­scored the sig­nif­i­cance of us­ing fe­tal tis­sue for re­search. It has aid­ed the de­vel­op­ment of vac­cines for dis­eases that once rav­aged com­mu­ni­ties glob­al­ly — in­clud­ing Po­lio, rubel­la, measles, chick­en­pox and ra­bies. On­go­ing re­search has al­so har­nessed fe­tal tis­sue for a pletho­ra of ther­a­peu­tic fields, such as di­a­betes, cer­tain blood dis­or­ders, ra­di­a­tion poi­son­ing, and var­i­ous neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders.

In a de­cid­ed win for an­ti-abor­tion ac­tivists that form a core of Pres­i­dent Trump’s vot­er base — the HHS on Wednes­day in its state­ment an­nounc­ing the fed­er­al re­search ban not­ed that “(p)ro­mot­ing the dig­ni­ty of hu­man life from con­cep­tion to nat­ur­al death is one of the very top pri­or­i­ties of Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

The move re­flects the stance of the White House, in par­tic­u­lar, vice pres­i­dent Mike Pence, on abor­tion and women’s rights: it fol­lows a raft of re­cent de­ci­sions de­signed to thwart women from mak­ing de­ci­sions about their own bod­ies — from black­balling Planned Par­ent­hood and sim­i­lar or­ga­ni­za­tions to en­hanc­ing pro­tec­tions for health­care providers that refuse to en­dorse abor­tion on moral/re­li­gious grounds. It is al­so re­flec­tive of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­ti­tude of di­min­ish­ing — if not out­right ig­nor­ing — sci­en­tif­ic re­search in pol­i­cy.

Fran­cis Collins NIH

Af­ter the HHS — un­der the aus­pices of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion — be­gan to scru­ti­nize fed­er­al­ly-fund­ed fe­tal tis­sue re­search last year, NIH di­rec­tor Fran­cis Collins cham­pi­oned the use of the ma­te­r­i­al, as­sert­ing it was “sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly and eth­i­cal­ly jus­ti­fied” at a meet­ing of an agency ad­vi­so­ry pan­el.

Sci­en­tists came out in droves to reg­is­ter their frus­tra­tion with the HHS an­nounce­ment.

“These new re­stric­tions have no sci­en­tif­ic or eth­i­cal ba­sis and will roll back decades of con­sen­sus in the U.S., de­lay­ing the de­vel­op­ment of new med­ical treat­ments…With these new ar­bi­trary re­stric­tions on re­search, the Unit­ed States is ced­ing its role as the glob­al leader in the de­vel­op­ment of cel­lu­lar ther­a­pies and re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine. Amer­i­cans will now wait for life-sav­ing ther­a­pies to be de­vel­oped in Eu­rope, Asia, and oth­er parts of the world,” said Doug Melton, pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tion­al So­ci­ety for Stem Cell Re­search (ISS­CR), a large or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing stem cell re­searchers across the world.

De­mo­c­rat law­mak­ers were al­so aghast.

Frank Pal­lone, Jr Twit­ter

“(T)he Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion once again places ide­ol­o­gy over sci­ence and facts…It’s im­por­tant that re­searchers are not ham­strung by ar­bi­trary lim­its on where the sci­ence can take them. The Ad­min­is­tra­tion should be spend­ing its time sup­port­ing and in­vest­ing in life­sav­ing med­ical re­search rather than un­der­min­ing sci­en­tif­ic in­quiry for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons,” said En­er­gy and Com­merce Chair­man Frank Pal­lone, Jr in a state­ment.

Last De­cem­ber, the NIH was giv­en $20 mil­lion for re­search to de­vel­op, demon­strate, and val­i­date ex­per­i­men­tal mod­els that do not re­ly on hu­man fe­tal tis­sue from elec­tive abor­tions.

Im­age: NIH via Flickr.

Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

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Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan [via Bloomberg/Getty]

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