Trump Administration restricts HIV testing and research with new policy

The main building of the National Institutes of Health is seen in Maryland

The Trump administration said Wednesday that it is ending medical research by government scientists that uses human fetal tissue, .

The Trump administration said it would continue to fund research into alternatives to fetal tissue from elective abortions.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the use of fetal tissue for research in the United States dates back to the 1930s and has been used by the National Institutes of Health since the 1950s.

The directive is the latest battle in the national debate over abortion and fetal tissue that has become increasingly contentious. Scientists use it to produce mice that model how the human immune system works.

The government's top medical scientist, NIH Director Francis Collins, said as recently as last December that he believes "there's strong evidence that scientific benefits come from fetal tissue research". A Reuters report last week detailed how Vice President Mike Pence, who has been driven throughout his political career by his evangelical Christian beliefs to restrict abortion, has played a quiet, behind-the-scenes role in abortion policy. The official wasn't authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity. "Fetal tissue research is subject to stringent laws and regulations and has been for decades".

And prior to that, in September, the HHS announced that it would be reviewing all government-funded fetal tissue research according to 'serious regulatory, moral and ethical considerations'.

"When a directive such as this eliminates a whole program of research, it will reverberate throughout the country", said Randy Schekman, a victor of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and a UC Berkeley Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology. As a result, NIH froze procurement of new tissue.

The administration also announced it was canceling a contract with a University of California, San Francisco lab that was testing new HIV therapies with fetal tissue.

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HHS says it is trying to balance "pro-life" and "pro-science" imperatives.

Canceling the UCSF contract was the "only humane response possible to the abortion industry's trafficking in infant remains", Students for Life of America president Kristan Hawkins responded.

The tissue used in such research comes from elective abortions.

"HHS Secretary Alex Azar is putting millions of dollars in lifesaving research at risk to please a small group of anti-abortion extremists", said Mary Alice Carter, senior adviser at Equity Forward, an HHS watchdog group.

"This is a major pro-life victory and we thank President Trump for taking decisive action", said Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser. Trump has nominated federal judges who oppose abortion, attempted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and expanded legal protection for medical providers who object to abortion.

At a House hearing on the issue last December, neuroscientist Sally Temple told lawmakers the consensus opinion in the scientific community is that there is now no adequate substitute for fetal tissue in some research areas. "It has unique properties".

The International Society for Stem Cell Research questioned whether the new scrutiny that university projects will face will follow long-accepted ethical guidelines or instead block the research for ideological reasons.

Research involving fetal tissue accounted for $98 million in NIH grants and projects during the 2017 budget year, a small fraction of the agency's overall research budget.


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