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Activists dressed as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” chant in the Texas Capitol Rotunda as they protest SB8, a bill that would require health care facilities, including hospitals and abortion clinics, to bury or cremate any fetal remains whether from abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth, and they would be banned from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers in Austin. (File Photo AP)

Scientists feel chill of crackdown on fetal tissue research

WASHINGTON (AP) --  To save babies from brain-damaging birth defects, University of Pittsburgh scientist Carolyn Coyne studies placentas from fetuses that otherwise would be discarded — and she’s worried this kind of research is headed for the chopping block.
The Trump administration is cracking down on fetal tissue research, with new hurdles for government-funded scientists around the country who call the special cells vital for fighting a range of health threats. Already, the administration has shut down one university’s work using fetal tissue to test HIV treatments, and is ending other fetal tissue research at the National Institutes of Health. “I knew this was something that’s going to trickle down to the rest of us,” said Coyne. She uses the placenta, which people may not think of as fetal tissue but technically is classified as such because the fetus produced it, to study how viruses such as Zika get past that protective barrier early in pregnancy.
“It seems to me what we’re moving toward is a ban,” she added. If so, when it comes to unraveling what happens in pregnancy and fetal development, “we’re going to stay ignorant to a lot of things.” Different types of tissue left over from elective abortions have been used in scientific research for decades, and the work has been credited with leading to lifesaving vaccines and other advances. Under orders from President Donald Trump, the Health and Human Services Department abruptly announced on Wednesday the new restrictions on taxpayer-funded research, but not privately funded work.
Aside from the cancellation of an HIV-related project at the University of California, San Francisco, university-led projects that are funded by the NIH — estimated to be fewer than 200 — aren’t affected right away. But as researchers seek to renew their funding or propose new studies, HHS said it will have to pass an extra layer of review, beyond today’s strict scientific scrutiny. Each project will have a federal ethics board appointed to recommend whether NIH should grant the money.
HHS hasn’t offered details but under the law authorising the review process, that board must include not just biomedical experts but a theologian, and the nation’s health secretary can overrule its advice.


(Latest Update June 10, 2019)


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