The Trump administration on Wednesday ended funding of medical research by government scientists using fetal tissue and canceled a multimillion-dollar contract for a university laboratory that uses the material to test new HIV therapies.
The decision to tighten federal support for an ideologically polarizing aspect of medical research was made by President Trump himself, according to two sources familiar with the decision-making.
It represents a victory for antiabortion advocates key to his political base, who immediately lauded the change, and a major disappointment to scientists who say the tissue collected from elective abortions has been instrumental to unlocking the secrets of diseases that range from AIDS to cancers to Zika, as well as to developing vaccines and treatments for illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease.
The Health and Human Services Department announced the policy shift in a six-paragraph statement. “Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” the statement said.
Scientists were incensed. “I think it’s ultimately a terrible, nonsensical policy,” said Larry Goldstein, distinguished professor in the University of California San Diego’s department of cellular and molecular medicine, who has advised scientific groups that use fetal tissue. “Valuable research that is directed at helping to develop therapies for terrible diseases will be stopped. And tissue that would be used will be thrown out instead.”
Immediately affected is a University of California at San Francisco laboratory whose multiyear contract with the National Institutes of Health to test potential HIV therapies using “humanized mice” was terminated for unspecified ethical reasons. The government has been the lab’s sole source of funding.
The scientific community has been adamant that no alternatives to human fetal tissue have proven equally effective. Opponents, however, say that newer methods, including the use of thymus tissue from newborn infants who undergo heart surgeries, appear promising. Late last year, NIH announced it would award $20 million in grants to support the development of alternatives.
Full story at Washington Post.