WIKIMEDIA, DILIFFHouse Republicans on a special panel have renewed calls to defund the health care organization Planned Parenthood, and are now recommending that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) cut funding for some forms of fetal tissue research, Nature reported last week (January 3).

The panel—established in 2015 after videos surfaced of Planned Parenthood officials discussing how fetal tissue is gathered and purchased—recommended that the NIH commission studies to determine whether fetal tissue obtained from stillborn and preterm infants alone could meet the needs of the scientific community and, if so, that the agency phase out funding for tissue obtained from induced abortions.

“Scientific societies and universities have made misleading claims about fetal tissue research,” according to the report. “The Select Panel has received letters from 21 institutions. . . . In reality, not a single responding institution provided substantive evidence for the value of fetal tissue...

But experts maintain that fetal tissue obtained from abortions is vital to scientific research. Scientists note that fetal tissue has helped develop vaccines and innovative therapies, and 62 scientific organizations signed a statement in support of fetal tissue research in March 2016. “This report is wrong and wrongheaded,” Larry Goldstein, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, told Nature. “It’s driven by ideology, not science.”

The central thesis of the report is that it is unethical to obtain fetal tissue from induced abortions—especially if the practice does not benefit society. “In over 100 years of unrestricted clinical research, human fetal tissue has failed to provide a single medical treatment,” the committee wrote in its report. “Human fetal tissue is used for only 0.01% of the over 230 thousand FDA [US Food and Drug Administration]-approved clinical trials—and thus far, no trials using human fetal tissue have reported positive results for patients.”

But front-line therapies for rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, and hemophilia were created using fetal tissue, Science reported. Meanwhile, some modern vaccines are propagated in MRC-5 and WI-38 cell lines, which were derived from fetuses aborted in the 1960s.  

The disconnect between scientists and the panel has some experts concerned about the future of science funding in the U.S. “This to me is very, very worrisome,” Alta Charo, an expert in law and ethics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison told Nature

Interested in reading more?

The Scientist ARCHIVES

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?