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AAMC, Health Groups Reject Fetal Tissue Research Advisory Board Recommendations

September 11, 2020

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CONTACTS
Heather Pierce, Sr. Director, Science Policy & Regulatory Counsel
Christa Wagner, Senior Legislative Analyst

The AAMC joined nearly 70 institutions and patient and health care organizations in an Aug. 31 letter urging Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to reject recommendations of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Fetal Tissue Ethics Advisory Board.

Specifically, the letter described the board’s final report released on Aug. 18 as reflecting “a pre-determined objective that is impeding promising biomedical research that has the potential to save lives and reduce human suffering,” as the board’s decision was to block funding for all but one of 14 research proposals it reviewed that would utilize human fetal tissue research.

“Considering the medical and scientific significance of research using human fetal tissue, we urge you to use your authority under 42 U.S. Code § 289a–1(b) to reject the Ethics Advisory Board’s recommendations to block specific research projects,” the letter urged Secretary Azar. “Additionally, we ask that you immediately revoke the HHS policy restricting federal funding for biomedical research involving fetal tissue,” the letter continued.

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Chairman Bill Foster (D-Ill.) separately raised concerns that the board’s recommendations may violate the NIH Scientific Integrity Policy in a Sept. 9 letter to Secretary Azar and NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD.

The members noted that it is “critical for NIH and all federal science agencies to maintain a trusted partnership with the external research community, and that means using clear and consistent evaluation criteria in grantmaking.”

“We also urge caution against any additional policy limitations to [human fetal tissue] in medical research, as they would have a devastating effect on research into treatments and cures for debilitating diseases like cancer and HIV, and on vaccines for deadly infections – including COVID-19, which has already killed over 190,000 Americans,” the letter concluded.

The Aug. 18 report summarized the board’s only meeting to review peer-reviewed research proposals intending to use human fetal tissue, which was convened on July 31 [see Washington Highlights, July 31].

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