The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) June 5 issued a statement announcing new policies regarding fetal tissue research. Under the new policy, HHS will “discontinue intramural research — research conducted within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — involving the use of human fetal tissue from elective abortion.” The announcement follows the Department’s months-long investigation into the use of fetal tissue for research.
According to HHS, extramural research projects that are currently funded will not be affected by the new policy. New extramural grant applications and current research projects in the competitive renewal process, however, that propose to use fetal tissue and are recommended for funding will undergo an additional review by an “ethics advisory board” to determine “whether, in light of the ethical considerations, NIH should fund the research project.” Additionally, HHS is allowing an existing contract with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) to expire.
The June 5 statement also mentioned the Department’s ongoing efforts to identify alternatives to human fetal tissue in research, which was the subject of a Congressional hearing in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform during the 115th Congress. The NIH in December 2018 published a $20 million funding opportunity “for research to develop, demonstrate, and validate experimental models that do not rely on human fetal tissue from elective abortions.”
Shortly after the announcement, the AAMC, joined by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, issued a statement expressing concern over the new restrictions and reaffirming the associations’ support for the full range of scientific discovery. The statement noted, “The limitations on intramural research at the NIH outlined in today’s announcement will obstruct research that is necessary for the development of new treatments for serious and incurable diseases that impact millions of patients.”