Bad Medicine

Veteran researchers: Medical advances have made fetal tissue research unnecessary

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A pair of medical experts told lawmakers that controversial fetal tissue research has been rendered obsolete thanks to advances using adult stem cells and other treatments.

Medical doctors and researchers told the House Oversight Committee on Thursday that research conducted using body parts obtained from aborted babies has failed to yield results, despite massive funding advantages. Dr. Tara Sander Lee, a veteran medical researcher and associate scholar at the non-profit Charlotte Lozier Institute, said that despite 100 years of research, baby stem cells have yet to live up to the miracle cures researchers have promised. She said the lack of success has "shown us that we never needed fetal tissue to begin with."

"We do not need fetal body parts from aborted fetuses to achieve future scientific and medical advancements," she said. "Alternatives exist that are abundant and more successful."

Dr. Sally Temple, president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, defended the continued use of fetal tissue. While she conceded that medical gains have arisen from adult stem cells, she added that such alternatives "cannot fully replace fetal tissue."

"The alternatives mentioned are not enough," she said. "Alternatives cannot be proven to work unless they've been compared to fetal tissue."

Dr. David Prentice, chairman for the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center and medical researcher for four decades, said adult stem cell research had already treated more than one million patients by the time the Nobel Prize was awarded to Shinya Yamanaka and John Gordon for their pioneering adult stem cell research. The use of fetal tissue stem cells have failed to mirror those results. Prentice said stem cell proponents exaggerate the potential of their research and have made "misleading" claims about fetal tissue's ability to treat AIDs, cancer, and other diseases. He said medical progress would be hampered by continuing to focus on fetal tissue when alternatives have outpaced them.

"There's no scientific necessity for the continued taxpayer funding for fresh fetal tissue," he said. "Modern alternatives have overtaken any need for fresh fetal tissue. Taxpayer funding … should go to successful patient-focused alternatives."

The hearing came in the wake of public outcry about taxpayer funding for research projects that use organs obtained from abortionists. The trade took centerstage in 2015 after undercover videos from the Center for Medical Progress showed executives at Planned Parenthood and researchers from tissue procurers candidly discussing the money they bring in by harvesting body parts from unborn babies. The videos inspired several federal, state, and congressional investigations into the practice, including a 2016 report from the House Select Panel on Infant Lives that found Planned Parenthood improperly profited from the trade.

The nation's largest abortion provider vowed to no longer accept money for organs in the aftermath of CMP's project, but that has failed to stem the controversy. Despite vocal opposition from the Trump administration, the Department of Health and Human Services has still inked contracts worth millions of dollars with some of the groups featured in the 2015 expose. In August, HHS cancelled a $15,900 contract with Advanced Bioscience Resources following public outcry. That scandal did not stop the agency from signing a $13 million deal with the University of California San Francisco to provide "humanized mice" implanted with cells from aborted babies.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said he wanted to approach the issue from the perspective of "improving medicine," citing a report from stem cell scientists claiming that fetal tissue research was "an essential gold standard resource in biomedical research." Supporters have repeatedly pointed to the presence of aborted baby cells in the polio vaccine to make the case for continued research. Dr. Sander Lee, however, disputed that point. Most of the cells in the polio vaccine came from monkeys, rather than aborted babies.

"Fetal tissues have never been the exclusive means necessary for these breakthroughs … none of the 75 vaccines available in the U.S. are produced using fresh fetal tissue," she said. "If we stop harvesting fresh tissues from aborted fetuses today, it will not stop one person from being treated or vaccinated nor will it inhibit the development of vaccines and therapies going forward."