A U.S. government order has suspended all purchases of foetal tissue for research purposes. The ban took effect in September, with no public announcement. The order follows the government’s decision to conduct a comprehensive review of the protections applicable to federally-funded foetal tissue research.
As a result of the ban, several laboratories are unable to purchase their “raw material” – foetal tissue from abortions – and have had to suspend their work until further notice. This week, the HHS, the US Department of Health and Human Services, reduced the duration of a contract with the University of California for human foetal research, to the great surprise of the researchers concerned. “We were all poised to go and then the bombshell was dropped,” complained Warner Greene, director of a laboratory doing AIDS research. The HHS has halted all purchases of human foetal tissue until the review is completed.
Two major laboratories are directly impacted by the government order: the National Eye Institute, which uses foetal retinal tissue to study eye diseases, and the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Montana, which uses aborted foetuses to create series of “humanized mice” with human-like immune systems. NIAID is looking for treatments for diseases such as AIDS.
In the USA, researchers cannot buy human foetal tissue directly. Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR), based in Alameda, California, provides all researchers in the country with aborted foetuses. In September, the FDA was forced to terminate a contract to procure human foetal tissue from ABR for use in drug testing. They use human foetuses “to move from discoveries in the lab to clinical treatments.
Researchers who do not work directly for the NIH will also be impacted by the ban on the purchase of human foetuses, and many do use them. “Everything I am doing involves humanized mice. It would shut my lab down if we were not able to use foetal tissues,” says Jerome Zack, a virologist in Los Angeles who has been buying human foetuses for 25 years to work with “humanized mice”.
For further reading:
 A single human foetus can generate a group of 40 to 50 genetically identical humanized mice. Potential drugs can then be tested on all the mice, improving the quality of the statistics.
 Food and Drug Administration.