Sunday, June 9, 2019

Shutting Down Federal Fetal Tissue Research Funding

Although it wasn't widely reported, this past Wednesday the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would end the use of federal funds for human fetal tissue from elective abortions for medical research.  The federal funding has been in place since 1993, when Bill Clinton signed a Ted Kennedy bill which reversed a 1988 Reagan decision banning such funding.   In the intervening 25 years, it has become evident that the so-called "gold standard" fetal stem cell research has not returned any benefits in scale with its funding.
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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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 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.

Induced pluripotent (adult) stem cell flow chart - source.


  1. Plus, there's something to be said for not murdering children and wallowing in their remains.

    1. There's always that. The fact the current HHS is taking this action is a good sign. I'm sure the "abortion uber alles" crowd thinks this is junk science.

  2. I am not a fan of abortion....especially 'elective' abortions. I consider it murder. In a day and age where effective contraception is almost universally available AND thanks to Obozocare FREE there is NO excuse for an 'accidental' pregnancy. Having said that I support research done with fetal tissues when said tissue is obtained in an ethical manner. There is simply no way to know
    where such research leads unless it is done and the possible returns while unpredictable are not without significance. The devil of course is in the details. How to ethically obtain the needed fetal tissues....who pays for such
    research, who owns the results of said research etc. etc. But a blanket ban on
    any field of medical/biological research could easily mean that a future cure for something is forgone.

    1. I didn't mean to imply this was any sort of blanket ban on any such research. It's simply the Federal government not funding it because it doesn't appear to be productive use of research funds.

      There are no restrictions on what private companies or states or universities or anyone else can do. Anyone who wants to pay for it is free to do so.

      Of course, the only way to know if a breakthrough is available is to do the research. That can be done by the private sector.

      As for how to obtain the fetal tissues, apparently the going rate for aborted babies is around $30 each and that implies to me that there isn't a shortage.