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Trump Administration Sharply Curtails Fetal Tissue Medical Research

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Trump Administration Sharply Curtails Fetal Tissue Medical Research

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As of last year, the N.I.H. spent about $100 million of its $37 billion annual budget on research projects involving fetal tissue. The tissue is used to test drugs, develop vaccines and study cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects, blindness and other disorders. For much of that work, scientists say there is no substitute for fetal tissue.

“Claims that other cells can be used to replace fetal tissue in biomedical research are patently incorrect,” dozens of scientific and medical groups wrote in a letter to Mr. Azar in December. “While there have been some advances in recent years that have reduced the need for fetal tissue in certain areas of research, it remains critically important in many other areas.”

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, have been using fetal tissue to create so-called humanized mice — engrafted with the tissue to make them respond more like humans — which can then be used to test drugs and vaccines. But opponents of fetal tissue research say alternatives, such as donated thymus tissue from infants who undergo heart surgery, or adult stem cells, are better.

“There are ample ethically derived sources and alternatives,” said David Prentice, vice president and research director for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. He called the move by the Health and Human Services Department “a good step, but a preliminary step,” adding that he hoped the administration would end federal funding to all universities for research involving fetal tissue from abortions.

Equity Forward, a watchdog group that promotes abortion rights, questioned why the Health and Human Services Department had not made public any results of its review of fetal tissue research. Mary Alice Carter, the group’s senior adviser, said in a statement that Mr. Azar “is putting millions of dollars in lifesaving research at risk to please a small group of anti-abortion extremists.”

“The fact is, there is no scientific reason to endanger this vital research funding,” Ms. Carter said. “Congress should use the power of the purse to put science ahead of ideology and continue funding these vital programs.”

According to the Health and Human Services Department, the N.I.H. has three active research projects involving fetal tissue from abortions, out of 3,065 internal projects.

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