A long-simmering debate about the ethics of using fetal tissue from elective abortions in biomedical research heated up today in Washington, D.C. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins this morning defended human fetal tissue research as scientifically and ethically justified at a meeting of an agency advisory panel. At about the same time, the scientific community and opponents of fetal tissue studies faced off at a congressional hearing looking into alternatives. The two developments came as President Donald Trump’s administration is scrutinizing the use of fetal tissue in federally funded research.
At today's meeting today of NIH’s Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) in Bethesda, Maryland, Collins noted that NIH’s parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is auditing federal purchases of fetal tissue and that NIH has just announced it will spend up to $20 million on research on alternatives. He called that effort “scientifically, highly justified.” At the same time, fetal tissue “will continue to be the mainstay,” he said, adding: “There is strong evidence that scientific benefits can come from fetal tissue research, which can be done with an ethical framework.”
In September, HHS canceled a U.S. Food and Drug Administration contract to purchase fetal tissue for drug testing and announced it was launching a review of all federally funded research that uses fetal tissue obtained after elective abortions. Last week, the department told researchers on an NIH contract at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), that it was allowing only a 90-day renewal of an annual contract that funds the use of fetal tissue to produce mice with humanlike immune systems, pending the outcome of the review. And as Science first reported, NIH acknowledged last week that a lab within the NIH intramural research program had to suspend an HIV research project this past September because NIH has halted procurement of fetal tissue by its own scientists.