The Trump administration said on Wednesday it would ban scientists in federal agencies from pursuing research using fetal tissue and add new barriers for researchers on college campuses to renew funding for research using the materials. He also said he would drop a contract with the University of California, San Francisco, to test for HIV infection using the tissue.
Funding for other non-governmental research laboratories is not affected by the decision. But the announcement is a clear victory for anti-abortion groups that have been pushing the Trump administration for months to restrict scientific work on fetal tissue from elective abortions.
He also warns university researchers that they may face other hurdles in the future in securing federal support for such work.
“I think anyone who has an existing grant will be thinking very strategically about their future steps,” said Joanne Carney, director of government relations at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Are you taking the risk of seeking federal funds, or are you looking to the private sector or international collaborations?
Future grants for research that proposes to use fetal tissue will also have to go through an ethics advisory committee which could also slow down the award process. It could also mean slower development of breakthroughs for vaccines or other research with a public health imperative, said Lizbet Boroughs, associate vice president for federal relations at the Association of American Universities.
The Department of Health and Human Services, after pressure from anti-abortion groups and members of Congress, launched a review last year of all federal fetal tissue research. Soon after, he said he would prevent the National Institutes of Health from acquiring new fetal tissue.
In a statement on Wednesday, the HHS said the review contributed to further restrictions on federal research and the termination of a contract with the University of California, San Francisco to study potential therapies for HIV. The long-term status of that contract was questioned last year after the Trump administration began granting 90-day extensions instead of the typical one-year renewal.
“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” the agency statement said. “The audit and review helped inform the political process that led to the administration’s decision to let the contract with UCSF expire and to cease intramural research – research conducted within National Institutes of Health (NIH) – involving the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortion. Intramural research that requires new acquisition of fetal tissue from elective abortions will not be conducted. “
UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood Recount The Washington Post that the university viewed the decision “as politically motivated, short-sighted and not based on sound science.”
Doug Melton, president of the International Society of Stem Cell Researchers, said in A declaration that the new restrictions issued on Wednesday had no scientific or ethical basis and will delay the development of new medical treatments.
“Research using fetal tissue has saved millions of lives through the development of vaccines against diseases that once ravaged communities around the world,” said Melton. “Polio is now almost eradicated and rubella, measles, chickenpox and rabies are all preventable diseases thanks to research on fetal tissue. “
Marjorie Dannenfelser, chair of the Susan B. Anthony anti-abortion list, called the announcement a “major pro-life victory” in A declaration.
“Taxpayer funding is best used to promote alternatives that are already being used in the production of treatments, vaccines and drugs and to expand approaches that do not depend on the destruction of unborn children often through a late abortion, ”she said.
Scientific groups, however, say that no suitable alternative to fetal tissue exist.
After the HHS announced the review of fetal tissue research last year, academic groups and scientific organizations said they were optimistic their voices would be heard. The administration had not released its findings before the announcement on Wednesday, however, and several panels said they had not seen the final review.
The impact of the new requirements for scientists studying fetal tissue will not be clear until the next round of research grant renewal. But academic groups expect the imposition of new ethics review boards to seriously block this process.
“Were concerned. We think there are already all kinds of ethical guidelines that researchers need to follow,” Boroughs said. “We think this is an unnecessary hurdle for researchers and for patients.”