The Trump administration has paused the acquisitions of fetal tissue in order to conduct an agency-wide audit and as a result, a hearing was organized by a pair of House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittees. At the same time, the National Institute of Health (NIH) announced this week that it will spend $20 million towards finding alternatives to the use of fetal tissue for research.
Because of this order for an audit by the administration, many studies have been halted or hindered and the administration has been repeatedly urged to reconsider its decision by health care organizations which argue that there is no viable substitute.
“Any new restriction on this critical work would obstruct research that is necessary for the development of new treatments for a wide range of serious diseases,” a coalition of research organizations, universities, and patient advocates warned in a letter on Thursday.
In January Republicans will lose control of the House and this hearing is one of the last being called by Republicans on this issue. Unfortunately, the hearing devolved into old and repeated arguments about abortion as Republicans spoke out against the federal funding for Planned Parenthood and Democrats decried the ‘wasteful’ replay of abortion investigations.
While Congress has little to say regarding the administration’s agency-wide audit regarding fetal tissue acquisitions, Republicans on Thursday tried to uphold and support the ongoing freeze as necessary because of the broader concerns about abortion-related to fetal tissue acquisitions.
“This is pretty simple,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of the subcommittee chairmen who convened the hearing. “We don’t need the fetal body parts from babies to achieve scientific and medical achievements because we have alternatives that can do it,” referencing the NIH funding announcement.
Tara Sander Lee and David Prentice, both affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List was called by Republicans to support their case against the harvesting of fetal tissue. Lee and Prentice have reiterated that there are other research options.
A study suggesting a more viable alternative, such as using discarded thymus tissue from newborn babies in implants into lab mice for experimental research, was frequently cited by Prentice.
However, that suggestion was countered by Democrats using a letter from the study’s lead author, Matthew Brown who rebuffed Prentice’s claims.
“[I]t is premature to make generalizable conclusions about the NeoThy replacing fetal tissue … in all humanized mouse research applications,” Brown wrote. “Further, in no way does our paper support the claim that fetal tissue research as a whole is no longer needed.”
The Democrats had one lone witness: Sally Temple of the International Society for Stem Cell Research who said, “It is incorrect to say that advances [in medicine] have not relied on fetal tissue,” said Temple, who won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant for her research findings. “That is not the case.”