Posted on Jun 05, 2019, 10 p.m.
Government officials have announced that it is ending medical research by government scientists using human fetal tissue, disregarding advice from scientists reminding that such research has led to lifesaving medical advances.
In a statement Health and Human Services Department announced policy changes will not affect privately funded research, and government funded research conducted by universities involving the use of fetal tissue can continue for now but will be subjected to additional scrutiny, however they did end one major project that used such tissue to test HIV treatments.
Such research has indeed led to lifesaving advances including the development of vaccines for rabies, rubella, and drugs to treat HIV among others. Scientists across the nation are not pleased with the decision saying that fetal tissue is urgently needed for research on HIV vaccines, and treatments that harness the immune system to fight cancer, as well as a long list of other health treats which includes some threats to fetuses themselves.
“Prohibiting valuable research that uses fetal tissue that is otherwise going to be discarded doesn't make any sense. It blocks important future research vital to the development of new therapies.” says Dr. Lawrence Goldstein, regenerative medicine specialist.
The government’s top medical scientist NIH Director Francis Collins recently said he believes “...there's strong evidence that scientific benefits come from fetal tissue research, and fetal tissue, rather than any alternatives, will continue to be the mainstay for certain types of research for the foreseeable future…”
"Today, fetal tissue is still making an impact, with clinical trials underway using cells from fetal tissue to treat conditions including Parkinson's disease, ALS, and spinal cord injury," says Doug Melton of Harvard's Stem Cell Institute, and the International Society for Stem Cell Research, who questions whether the new scrutiny university projects will face will follow the long accepted ethical guidelines or block the research for ideological reasons.
The administration announced it would review whether money was being properly spent on fetal tissue research, as a result NIH froze procurement of new tissues. Now the administration has announced it is not renewing and is expiring contracts with UC San Francisco that used fetal tissues to create human like immune systems for HIV research, the NIH is now funding a $20 million program to “develop, demonstrate, and validate experimental models that do not rely on human fetal tissue.”
"Today's action is a significant pro-life victory, the NIH "has directed funding toward the development of alternative research methods that do not rely on human fetal tissue from elective abortions and I remain supportive of that effort." says Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.
However the scientific consensus is there is no adequate substitute for fetal tissues in certain areas of research such as learning how the Zika virus moves from a pregnant woman’s bloodstream to infect the fetus and attack its developing brain; how to prevent this requires studying fetal tissues according to Sally Temple, neuroscientist at the Neural Stem Cell Institute.
"Despite the president's pledge to 'end the HIV epidemic,' today's announcement poses a direct threat to crucial research to find treatments for HIV and other health threats. Ideologues should not be allowed to stand in for real doctors and scientists when the government is making decisions about life-saving medicine." says Megan Donovan of the Guttmacher Institute.
For decades under administration of both political parties the government has funded research using fetal tissues. Currently there are at least 3 and as many as 12 active federal research projects that involve these tissues; and among government funded university research projects there are fewer than 200 of 50,000 that use these tissues according to the officials.
No university led programs will be affected for the time being aside from the canceled USCF contract, but new projects proposing the use of fetal tissues and current projects up for renewal will be subject to additional reviews, according to the officials.
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