On June 5th, 2019, the Trump administration placed a ban on intramural studies involving fetal tissue at the National Institute of Health, stymying their ability to study multiple infectious diseases and developmental disorders. Extramural research proposals using fetal tissue, while not entirely banned, are subject to an ethics board review process which may take up to 6 months. The composition of the ethics board faces regulations as well – one half to one third of members must be scientists, and it must also include a lawyer, and ethicist, and a theologian.
Until this new legislation goes into effect on September 25, 2019, the current process of fetal tissue research can be explained simply by a university official certifying that there will be ethical methods of obtaining the tissue and ethical methods of tissue use. Tissue is obtained via women who have had elective abortions and opted to have their fetal tissue donated to science.
The new regulations will create many barriers to those aiming to perform research beyond September 25th. Dr. Coyne, a virologist at the University of Pittsburgh, stresses how onerous it will become to study complex diseases where fetal tissue is crucial to our understanding of their etiology- for example, Zika Virus and HIV. Scientists fear that regulations on biomedical research will deter funding and the progress of finding treatments (and preventatives) for these pertinent diseases. Regardless of your stance on elective abortion, it is clear that fetal tissue is critical to the advancement of modern medicine. As the biome around us changes and new diseases come to fruition in the human population, we need to be prepared to study treatments in an efficient, reasonable amount of time.
Link to article: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6452/414