The US Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday (June 5) that scientists at the National Institutes of Health will no longer be able to study human fetal tissue, although projects funded by the US government at external institutions can continue with increased ethical oversight.
An anonymous senior official in President Donald Trump’s administration tells the Associated Press that the decision was Trump’s. “Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” HHS’s statement reads.
Anti–abortion rights advocates praised the move, while a number of scientists expressed disappointment.
“Prohibiting valuable research that uses fetal tissue that is otherwise going to be discarded doesn’t make any sense,” Lawrence Goldstein, a regenerative medicine specialist at the University of California, San Diego, tells the AP. “It blocks important future research vital to the development of new therapies.”
The Trump Administration had already asked HHS to stop acquiring fetal tissue in September 2018. It had also limited a contract with the University of California, San Francisco, to use fetal tissue on studies of HIV, and that project has now been discontinued, according to HHS’s announcement yesterday.
New applications or requests for renewals of external projects will have to go through an ethics review by a panel, appointed by the HHS Secretary, that includes a theologian, a lawyer, a doctor, an ethicist, and scientists, Nature reports.
According to Science, the budget for NIH’s in-house projects using human fetal tissue totaled $13 million. Reuters reports that affected government scientists will be able to use the remaining supply of material.