The House Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) Committee Subcommittees on Healthcare, Benefits, and Administrative Rules and Government Reform Dec. 13 held a hearing titled “Exploring Alternatives to Fetal Tissue Research.” Witnesses included Sally Temple, PhD, Scientific Director at the Neural Stem Cell Institute; Tara Sander Lee, PhD, Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute; and David A. Prentice, PhD, Vice President and Research Director of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.
The purpose of the hearing was to “evaluate the ethical considerations of fetal tissue research and explore alternative research methods [and] discuss the recent steps taken by the Administration to expand efforts in developing and implementing the use of alternatives.” The hearing follows a Sept. 24 statement from the Department of Health and Human Services announcing that the department terminated a contract with a company that had been providing the Food and Drug Administration with fetal tissue to develop testing protocols, and would also conduct a “comprehensive review of all research involving fetal tissue to ensure consistency with statutes and regulations governing such research” [see Washington Highlights, Sept. 28].
Much of the hearing’s discussion echoed questions and misperceptions addressed during the 2016 House Select Investigative Panel hearings regarding the need for fetal tissue research and its unique role in enabling discovery in a wide range of disciplines [see Washington Highlights, March 4, 2016 and April 22, 2016].
Temple shared that researchers “embrace alternatives [to fetal tissue] when they are available, but those alternatives are not available for every disease.” Additionally, fetal tissue research “has laid groundwork for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS,” cancer research, and more.
Emphasizing a sentiment expressed by several Democrats on the subcommittees, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) shared her thoughts on the importance of engaging in all kinds of research, noting that “the science is where we need to follow; science is important.”
The AAMC joined a Dec. 13 community letter to Subcommittee leadership signed by over 60 organizations expressing “strong opposition to restrictions that would further impede fetal tissue research.” The AAMC also sent a joint letter Dec. 12 to Subcommittee leadership with the Association of American Universities and Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in “support of the full spectrum of ethically-conducted research, including the use of fetal tissue in research and work to identify potential equivalents to fetal tissue … to further scientific understanding and improve the health of all.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Dec. 10 announced its intent to “publish new Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) to invite applications to develop and/or further refine human tissue models that closely mimic and can be used to faithfully model human embryonic development or other aspects of human biology.” NIH expects to invest up to $20 million in these new funding opportunities over the next two years.