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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 14, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 50
Trump administration bars NIH research involving fetal tissue
Section One
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Trump administration bars NIH research involving fetal tissue

New order disrupts HIV study

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Trump administration has ordered scientists employed by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to stop acquiring new human fetal tissue for experiments, according to ScienceInsider.

The new order affects two laboratories run by the agency, NIH officials say. In one case, it disrupted a study probing how the HIV virus initially colonizes human tissues.

The HIV study was being conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

'Yes, we have instituted a pause of further procurements [of human fetal tissue] pending the audit/review that HHS [the federal Health and Human Services Department] is undertaking,' an NIAID spokesperson confirmed.

The HIV experiment disrupted by the administration's order was being conducted at NIAID's Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana, which focus on infectious diseases.

Researchers there use fetal tissue donated by women who have had legal abortions to create so-called humanized mice, which have immune systems that behave like a human's. Humanized mice have played a key role in testing and developing treatments for HIV/AIDS.

According to emails provided to ScienceInsider by Warner Greene, director of the Gladstone Center for HIV Cure Research in San Francisco, RML researcher Kim Hasenkrug had prepared humanized mice for a trial of an antibody that the researchers believed could prevent HIV from establishing reservoirs in the human body.

On September 11, researcher Kim Hasenkrug informed Greene and her postdoctoral student Thomas Packard that he had obtained needed reagents and the mice were ready.

Packard responded that they were excited at the prospect of getting the study started, and would immediately send Hasenkrug a batch of the antibodies.

'I'll not be able to get [the antibodies] on the 3 PM FedEx today, but I'll ship [the antibodies] to you tomorrow, so you should have it on Thursday,' Packard wrote in an email.

By September 28, however, all bets were off. Greene received a message from Hasenkrug that left him stunned, he said.

The email, which bore the subject line 'HHS directive,' read in part:

'[HHS] has directed me to discontinue procuring fetal tissue from ABR, the only source for us. I think that they are the only provider of fetal tissue for scientists in the nation who don't have direct access to aborted fetal tissue. This effectively stops all of our research to discover a cure for HIV.'

Hasenkrug had not yet launched the experiment, Greene says, and his supplies of existing mice were too small to conduct the repeated experiments required to reach convincing scientific conclusions.

The order to discontinue fetal tissue was issued covertly, without any public announcement, as part of a review of all fetal tissue research funded by the federal government.

'We were all poised to go and then the bombshell was dropped,' Greene said. 'The decision completely knocked our collaboration off the rails. We were devastated.'

Many of Donald Trump's evangelical supporters oppose fetal tissue research because the tissue is procured as a result of abortions.

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