For over 25 years, Congress has allowed the National Institutes of Health to dole out what now amounts to more than $100 million each year to researchers who utilize the fetal tissue of aborted babies. There is little to show for this money. As a House select investigative panel found, fetal tissue research didn’t fulfill any promises of major scientific discoveries. As Sean Duffy and Kathleen Schmainda write in The Federalist, “the panel investigation further discredits the claim that fetal tissue plays an indispensable role in 'life-saving' research.”The article in The Federalist goes into more details about the research, the claims and the realities. For example:
Proponents of research using aborted fetal tissue claim that it is critical for research in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, autism, and schizophrenia, or that it provides the gold standard for studies in immunology. However, a “peek behind the curtain” quickly reveals that these arguments are not backed by scientific practice or historical fact.It began to be acknowledged in the early 2000s that fetal stem cell transplants can create cancers and that stem cells from adults were more useful. The year-long House Select Panel investigation summarized in their 2016 final report that in the nearly 90 years of unrestricted research , “not a single clinical treatment has been developed from human fetal tissue.” Note that other stem cells, not from completely non-differentiated, pluripotent fetal stem cells, have successfully been used in therapies. As the quote from the Federalist says, stem cells from adults that have been induced to become pluripotent have been used successfully.
A plethora of alternative tissue and cell sources, both proven and of high potential, are now available without ethical concerns. Examples include stem cells from bone marrow, circulating blood, umbilical cord, and amniotic fluid, as well as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and even neural stem cells from cadavers.
Examples of treatments developed using non-fetal sources are endless. To name a few, insulin for diabetes, Herceptin for breast cancer, and TPA for heart attack and stroke were all developed using non-fetal tissue sources. There are more than 70 successful treatments developed using adult stem cell sources.
Each year nearly 18,000 people ages 0-74, who are diagnosed with a serious illness including blood cancers and metabolic or immune system disorders, benefit from adult stem cell transplants from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood, with more than 1 million patients treated by the end of 2012. Meanwhile, fetal tissue transplants have shown no validated benefit to patients, and in many cases have made patients worse.
As Scientific American magazine (paywall warning) said in a report warning of the dangers of using stem cells as a treatment:
"A dark side of stem cells-their potential to turn malignant-is at the root of a handful of cancers and may be the cause of many more. Eliminating the disease could depend on tracking down and destroying these elusive killer cells."It's not that there's no research going on using fetal stem cells. Some of it is because the fetal cells are cheaper - and some of that in turn is the Federal subsidy - but the root cause is simply the supply and demand for the millions of aborted babies. (Abortion clinics sell deceased babies to fetus processors for as little as $30 while the processing companies sell each “component” of the baby to researchers for up to $550.) It's just that fetal tissues (or byproduct stem cells) are used in only 0.01 percent of clinical trials currently underway. In NIH funded grants between 2010-2014, fetal stem cells were used in 0.2 percent of the grants.
None of these are investigating Alzheimer’s disease, either, where many claim fetal tissue is “required” and the “gold standard.” In many cases, aborted fetuses are not the most appropriate tissue source. Rather, these tissues are used because they are cheaper and easier to obtain than adult tissues.I'm sure that fetal tissue research supporters would argue that in this era of nearly trillion dollar deficits taking $100 Million out of Federal spending is like celebrating a few pennies found between the sofa cushions. I find it easy to think their real justification would be that the effects of the federal money lowers their costs, but it's always worth asking if perhaps Fed.gov should be wiser about how they spend that money. The saying, "watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves" is credited to Ben Franklin, and it certainly goes here.
The NIH strives to fund research that has a high likelihood to exert a sustained, powerful influence on a field with a great potential to enhance human health. Given the lack of medical breakthroughs using aborted fetal tissues, continued NIH support for its use would be contrary to its stated mission of funding research with high potential impact.
Induced pluripotent (adult) stem cell flow chart - source.