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.
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.
“(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.