If you want to ban fetal tissue research, sign a pledge to refuse its benefits – USA TODAY

By daniellenierenberg

Irving Weissman and Joseph McCune, Opinion contributors Published 7:00 a.m. ET Jan. 24, 2020

Severe Trump administration restrictions mean millions of Americans of all political and religious stripes won't benefit from fetal tissue research.

Last summer the Trump administration curtailed federal funding of medical research using human fetal tissue; the new rulestook effect Oct. 1. More recently, the administration addedrestrictions that are even more severe.

Immediately, important work at two NIH-supported labs in Montana and California that are fighting the AIDS epidemic stopped because they were testing new medications against HIV using mice with human immune systems derived from human fetal tissue. In the near term, all National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding of research using fetal tissuewill likely cease.

More than 30years ago, we invented SCID-hu mice for biomedical research on diseases affecting humans, by implanting human fetal blood-forming and immune system tissuesinto mice whose immune systems had been silenced. The implanted immune tissues came from an aborted fetus, and allowed our otherwise immune-deficient mice to exist and be vulnerable to viruses that infect humans.

Tissues from living infants would not have worked;they are too far along in development and nearly impossible to obtain. This mouse model (and later versions of it) became the only living system, outside of a human, in which advanced therapies for diseases like AIDS and other viral infections could be evaluated before they were given to people.

Our work with human fetal tissue proceeded with the highest level of caution and vigilance. We received advice from bioethicists, clergyand government officials, which led to the establishment of strict guidelines that are still used today. No woman was asked or paid to terminate a pregnancy, the termination process was unaltered, and the women were asked for donation of the organs only after they had decided to terminate the pregnancy. Thus, obtaining the fetal tissue for medical research had no impact on ending pregnancies.

Since then, mice with transplanted human fetal tissues have been successfully used by scientists to identify blood stem cells and to devise treatments now availableor in clinical trialsfor cancer, various viral infections, Alzheimers disease, spinal cord injuries, and other diseases of the nervous system. Such diseases kill or cripple many Americans including pregnant women, fetusesand newborn infants. Many of them have only a short window of opportunity wherein a new therapy can treat them, and a delay can be fatal.

National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on Oct. 21, 2013.(Photo: *, Kyodo)

The Trump administration's new rules are tantamount to a funding ban. In academic labs, the experiments are done by students and fellows in training, and the new rules block any NIH-funded students or fellows from working with human fetal tissue. Those who imposed the banmust bear responsibility for the consequences: People will suffer and die for lack of adequate treatments.

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At a December 2018 meeting at NIH,after hearing scientific evidence about alternative research methods such as the use of adult cells, experts concluded that the use of fetal tissue is uniquely valuable. Nonetheless, the administration severely restricted the use of fetal tissue, thereby denying millions of Americans the fruits of such research Americans of all political stripes, since deadly viruses and cancers do not care who you vote for.

These restrictions subvert the NIH mission, which is to advance medicine and protect the nations health. To the extent that it was motivated by the religious beliefs of those in charge, it bluntly transgresses the American principle of separation of church and state. As a result, both believers and non-believers will die.

Of course, all who take the Hippocratic Oathto "do no harm,"which includes all medical doctors, will always offer and deliver all types of therapies that are available.

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However, we believe that thoseresponsible forthis de facto ban, and perhapsthose who agree with them, should personally accept its consequences. We challenge them tobe true to their beliefs. They should pledge to never accept any cancer therapy, any AIDS medication, any cardiac drug, any lung disease treatment, any Alzheimers therapy, or any other medical advance that was developed using fetal tissue including our mice. Its a long list, one that you can learn about from us here. Should this apply to you, be faithful and be bold: Take the pledge.

Irving Weissman is a Professor of Pathology and Developmental Biology and the Director of the Stanford Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and Ludwig Center for Cancer Stem Cell at Stanford University School of Medicine. Joseph McCune is Professor Emeritus of Medicine from the Division of Experimental Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. The views expressed here are solely their own.

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