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US government details restrictions on fetal tissue research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced Friday that scientists applying for government grants are required to explain in detail why they need to use fetal tissue and how it will be obtained.

Also, young investigators supported by training awards will be barred from using fetal tissue, according to a recent NIH statement.

It came as abortion rights opponents in the country opposed fetal tissue research because it uses tissue donated by women who have had elective abortions.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services started a review on federally funded research with the fetal tissue in 2018 and it announced in June this year a ban of fetal tissue studies by in-house NIH scientists.

NIH detailed in its new proposal the requirements for grant and contract proposals submitted by outside scientists after September 25 this year. Applicants need to describe the process they will use in order to obtain consent to use tissue from a woman having an abortion.

They will also need to provide scientific justification for not using an alternative such as adult tissue or organoids. With these rules, “it’s not impossible to do fetal tissue research with NIH support,” said Lawrence Goldstein, a stem cell neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego. “But it’s going to be very problematic.”

Some researchers are removing fetal tissue from their proposals, but it may result in a setback for their previous work. Warner Greene, an HIV scientist at the Gladstone Center for HIV Cure Research, moved his research for an HIV cure from humanized mice to monkeys, and he must use an analogous, monkey-infecting virus.

But some conservative organizations lauded the new policy. “The policy is not just about science. It’s also about ethics,” said David Prentice with Charlotte Lozier Institute. 

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