HHS to Review Funding for Fetal Tissue Research

Anti-abortionist and Republican Opposition Leads to Cancelation of Contract with Fetal Tissue Firm

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently canceled a $15,900 contract with fetal research company Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR) over concerns that the contract failed to include “the appropriate protections applicable to fetal tissue research or met all other procurement requirements.”

In addition, HHS plans to audit all of its contracts with fetal tissue research firms to ensure consistency with statutes and regulations governing such research as well as ensuring that research procedures and oversight are adequate “in light of the serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations involved.”

HHS also wants to further investigate alternatives to fetal tissue research. The move is seen as placating antiabortion groups. Eighty-five members of the House of Representatives sent a letter on September 17 to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, in which they stated their concerns about ABR. Under testimony to Congress, ABR admitted that it had obtained tissue through the collection of human fetal remains from abortion clinics. The lawmakers urged Gottlieb to cancel the contract immediately and use alternative scientific techniques that "do not contribute to the trafficking in human body parts.”

However, scientists who work with fetal tissue point to the advances their research has made for medicine.

Thomas Baldwin, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, wrote in a 2017 letter to Congress that fetal tissue is critical to furthering an understanding of how human tissues develop and are affected by disease. He stated that advances such as the development of vaccines against polio, rubella, measles, chickenpox, and others, and treatments for debilitating diseases depended on research using fetal tissue.

Sources: NBC News, September 25, 2018; Rep. Chris Smith, September 17, 2018; The Hill, September 24, 2018