Washington Update

FASEB Releases Statement on HHS Fetal Tissue Research Ban

By: Alyssa Ward
Thursday, June 20, 2019

Following months of review, the Trump administration took steps to limit the use of human fetal tissue in federally funded research. On June 5, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced changes to its policy on research using human fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions. Coinciding with the announcement, NIH chose not to renew a contract with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) that involved HIV research using fetal tissue. HHS officials stated that the contract cancellation was not due to ethical misconduct on the part of UCSF.

In response, FASEB issued a statement highlighting the importance of fetal tissue to basic research and expressing support for the continued use of human fetal tissue in federally funded research.

Fetal tissue was key in developing vaccines for polio, measles, and chickenpox, as well as in treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, and hemophilia. Current research utilizes fetal tissue to better understand how the Zika virus crosses the placenta and infects the fetus. These projects rely on the use of fetal tissue and at present cannot be replaced by another model system. In December 2018, National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a $20 million funding program to develop alternative models to human fetal tissue, but no timeline has been proposed for this program.

The new policy prevents the acquisition of new fetal tissue into the NIH intramural program. NIH labs are allowed to continue research projects utilizing existing tissue until the supply is exhausted but cannot acquire new material. HHS officials say this will affect three projects at NIH.

NIH-funded research using human fetal tissue conducted through the extramural program can continue, but new grants and grant renewals will be subject to an additional layer of review. Going forward, any grant recommended for funding that proposes fetal tissue use will be reviewed by an ethics advisory board to determine if NIH should fund it. The HHS policy will not affect privately funded research.