May 24, 2021

Biden Administration Revokes Trump Era Restriction on Human Fetal Tissue Research

Biden Administration Revokes Trump Era Restriction on Human Fetal Tissue Research

The Biden Administration has recently removed the restrictions on human fetal tissue research imposed by former President Trump. The Notice, released by the Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH),  informs the extramural research community that Human and Health Services (HHS) is reversing its 2019 decision that all research applications for NIH grants and contracts proposing the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortions will be reviewed by an Ethics Advisory Board. Additionally, HHS and NIH will not assemble another NIH Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board. 

The Trump administration’s policy, announced in June of 2019, forbid NIH scientists from conducting research using human fetal tissue, which would otherwise be discarded after abortions. The rules also created new hurdles for extramural applicants, including an ethics advisory board that ended up being composed of scientists and ethicists who oppose abortion. In August 2020, the board accepted only 1 of 14 proposals that had already been considered worthy of funding by scientific reviewers.

“It was a farce,” said Lawrence Goldstein to Science, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, and member of the advisory board. “Highly valuable projects that had been through multiple levels of review already … went to this board to die.” In 2018, intramural studies within NIH using human fetal tissue received about $31 million.

In January 2021, The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) sent a letter to President Biden, sign by 94 organizations, expressing the need for rescinding the human fetal tissue (HFT) research restrictions. The letter indicated the importance of HFT in research, specifically COVID-19. “Cells derived from HFT are currently being used to support the development of multiple treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. While the Trump Administration’s arbitrary restrictions on HFT research did not extend to the particular cell line used in COVID-19 research, this research demonstrates the significance of HFT as a research tool for lifesaving biomedical research,” the letter stated. “The restrictions put in place by the Trump administration could delay future advances, vaccines, and anti-viral therapies that would otherwise have been developed through the current generation of HFT research.”

Since the revoking of the restrictions, ISSCR has congratulated the Biden Administration, stating “The scientific community appreciates that the Biden Administration is lifting the arbitrary restrictions on promising biomedical research using human fetal tissue. Fetal tissue is a crucial research tool that has contributed to numerous scientific advances and saved millions of lives. It was critical for the development of vaccines for polio, rubella, measles, chickenpox, and rabies. It remains essential for creating models of the human immune system for studying viral infections from HIV, Zika, coronavirus, and other viruses. Fetal tissue is important to the advancement of stem cell research and regenerative medicine because of its use as a reference material for validating stem cell-based models of human development and organs.”