Lost in the blizzard of news about coronavirus statistics, lockdowns, social distancing and possible miracle drugs is an American controversy about foetal tissue research. The Trump Administration has consistently blocked this. A HHS statement in 2019 set out the following principle: “Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration”.
However, this is keeping a leading researcher, Kim Hasenkrug, from using “humanised” mice to test potential therapies. These mice have human-like lungs with tissue derived from aborted human foetuses.
Democrats in the House of Representatives have attacked the ban. In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, they write: "Because of your restrictions, NIH is unable to utilize human fetal tissue to develop animal models of COVID-19 that can test potential vaccines and treatments to decelerate or even end this global health crisis. This inaction may ultimately put Americans further at risk of disease or death from COVID-19. "
House Republicans have urged President Trump to resist pressure to permit foetal tissue research. “These critical litanies, however, repeat false claims and narratives which for many years have touted the utility of aborted fetal tissues in research, including the claim that aborted fetal tissue has been used to create many vaccines,” they wrote.
Republican Senators also supported the current policy in a letter to the President. “These attempts to exploit the current crisis faced by our nation undermine your leadership and the promising research that is already underway,” they write. “In reality, holding the line ethically gives us the ability to put resources toward better science that is already showing promise against the coronavirus.”
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge
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