Report that NIH will cancel fetal tissue research contract fuels controversy

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is disputing a information report that it has determined to finish a multimillion-dollar contract that funds using human fetal tissue for HIV drug testing.

Tim Evanson/Flickr (CC BY-SA)

Report that NIH will cancel fetal tissue research contract fuels controversy

*Update, 6 December, 11:45 a.m.: Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request from ScienceInsider, NIH has launched its 3 December letter to UCSF indicating that a contract involving humanized mice may be terminated. Here is our unique story from 5 December:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C., is vigorously contesting a report, printed byThe Washington Post, that it has determined to cancel a $2-million-a-year contract that funds work utilizing human fetal tissue to develop mice with humanlike immune systems for testing medicine in opposition to HIV.

HHS officers insist they’ve made no determination on the contract, and say they’re nonetheless within the means of finishing a previously announced review of all federally funded research that makes use of human fetal tissue derived from elective abortions. But the report comes as antiabortion teams have stepped up their long-standing efforts to finish federal funding for research utilizing human fetal tissue, which is authorized beneath a 1993 law. And the battle over the contract is being adopted intently by different researchers who depend on fetal tissue of their work.

In the web story posted yesterday, thePost reported that an official on the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of HHS, had informed researchers on the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), that the company can be canceling a 7-year contract awarded in 2013 that funds the humanized mouse work, and that “the decision was coming from the ‘highest levels,’ according to a virologist familiar with the events.” ThePost story appeared 2 days after a columnist for CNS News, a politically conservative outlet, published a news story pointedly probing NIHs plans for the UCSF contract, and the identical day,The Hill newspaper ran an opinion piece by Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life in Washington, D.C., demanding that the contract be canceled.

Today, Caitlin Oakley, an HHS spokesperson, issued an announcement difficult thePost’s reporting. It reads partly:

[T]he Washington Post selected to publish a narrative based mostly on nameless sources offering inaccurate info by phone with no traceable data regardless of the actual fact that HHS offered a number of, on-the-record assurances … that the claims by the nameless supply had been incorrect. … No contracting official would have had the authority to impart any communication to UCSF that the contract was being cancelled as a result of no determination has been made.

The dueling variations of the contract’s standing come amid HHS’s overview of all U.S.-funded research utilizing human fetal tissue from elective abortions—a overview being led by Admiral Brett Giroir, HHS’s assistant secretary for well being, who described the administration in a current letter to Representative Mark Meadows (R–NC) as “pro-life, pro-science.” HHS launched the overview in September, on the heels of stress from antiabortion teams; Three weeks in the past, Giroir and different senior HHS officers met with research advocates in a “listening session” that is a part of the overview.

NIH estimates it offered $103 million for research utilizing human fetal tissue in 2018. HHS in September started to audit all division contracts that contain human fetal tissue. It has already canceled a $15,900 Food and Drug Administration contract that additionally used fetal tissue to develop humanized mice.

The contract between UCSF and NIH’s National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is extendable, yr by yr, via 2020. (The most up-to-date yr of the contract expired late in November, and the 1-year renewal was required by immediately, in response to NIH’s RePORTER database.) Under it, researchers use immune tissues from electively aborted fetuses that would in any other case have been discarded to create mice with humanlike immune programs that are used to guage potential HIV medicine. (Such mice are additionally used to check different harmful infectious ailments, like Ebola and Marburg.)

Admiral Brett Giroir, U.S. assistant secretary for well being, is heading a authorities overview of human fetal tissue research.

Texas A&M University System/Wikimedia Commons

If the contract is killed, “we are all going to lose the kind of research that is important to fight an epidemic that we still can’t cure and still can’t vaccinate against,” says Irving Weissman, an immunologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who has lengthy used such mice for HIV research.

But opponents of fetal tissue use say the scrutiny is welcome. “Irv Weissman says there is no alternative,” says David Prentice, research director on the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Arlington, Virginia, which opposes human fetal tissue research. “But there is at least one publication that shows neonatal thymus produces a better humanized mouse.” He pointed to this paper inStem Cell Reports, wherein humanized mice had been developed utilizing thymuses obtained from new child infants who had undergone surgical procedure to restore congenital coronary heart defects.

(After reviewing the paper, Weissman argued the approach it describes would require extra invasive procedures to withdraw bone marrow from the toddler donors, to be able to replicate the tactic used now to create humanized mice utilizing fetal tissue. He added that the tactic has not been reproduced in different labs, neither is it recognized whether or not the mice are inclined to HIV an infection. “It is unwise to ban a system that works in favor of an unproven system,” he wrote in an e mail.)

Yesterday, thePost reported that 5 days after UCSF had been informed verbally that the contract can be canceled, the college obtained this letter from NIAID, notifying UCSF that the contract can be prolonged for 90 days, via 5 March, not the same old 1 yr. The letter, dated Monday, 3 December, instructs the united states researchers to “end ongoing research.” But it provides: “Do not acquire or [implant] new fetal tissue” in mice; “do not produce” new mice; and “do not begin new experiments within the mice,” until in any other case instructed. It provides in black bolded letters that this “preliminary notice does not commit the Government to an extension” of the contract after 5 March.

The principal investigator on the contract didn’t reply to an e mail requesting remark. Instead, the workplace of Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, of which UCSF is a component, issued an announcement that didn’t deal with the contract straight. It reads partly:

The University of California conducts research utilizing fetal tissue that is significant to discovering therapies and cures for all kinds of grownup and childhood ailments and medical situations. This research is carried out in full compliance with federal and state legislation, in addition to moral requirements, and is consistent with the college’s training, research and public service missions.

The biomedical group is watching the destiny of the united states course of intently, and with some angst. One investigator at an establishment with substantial NIH funding for fetal tissue research mentioned his group has not had any communication from HHS or NIH indicating that the funding is in peril. But he’s apprehensive nonetheless. “Fetal tissue really is a powerful tool,” mentioned the researcher, who requested to stay nameless as a result of he didn’t need to draw consideration to the actual fact that his group makes use of fetal tissue. “A lot of basic research on diseases would be left reeling” if funding is lower off, he mentioned, naming HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s illness, and most cancers research amongst these that can be affected.

Alta Charo, a bioethicist and lawyer on the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says the HHS overview, together with the imperiling of the united states contract, “continues to set a tone in which political symbolism trumps real public health needs. Because there is absolutely no evidence that any woman has ever decided to abort because of this research.”

Weissman provides that he’s involved by an invite he just lately obtained from NIAID to take part in an 18 December workshop exploring alternate options to using fetal tissue to generate humanized mice.

“Why are we having this discussion?” Weissman requested. “The force behind this discussion is coming not from scientists working in the field and trying to understand and treat these diseases. It’s a political force apparently coming from above the NIH level.”

With reporting by Jocelyn Kaiser.

*Update, 6 December, 4:35 p.m.: This article has been up to date to incorporate feedback from Irving Weissman on the Stem Cell Reports paper and quotations from the three December letter.

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