Fetal Tissue Research: Antiquated and Unethical?

, Steven Koskulitz, Leave a comment

On November 27, the Heritage Foundation hosted an event in which speakers discussed fetal tissue research; specifically, they explored how research could be changed to protect life while also being scientifically useful. The speakers were Dr. David Prentice, Vice President and Research Director at Charlotte Lozier Institute, and Dr. Tara Sander Lee, Associate Scholar at Charlotte Lozier Institute.

Dr. Prentice dispelled a misconception about fetal tissue: “…there is a big distinction between the fetal tissue from ongoing abortions, which is the source of the current debate, versus these (fetal) cell lines-historic cell lines. But you still see claims that fetal tissue, for example, was used to produce the polio vaccine. Point of fact-fresh aborted fetal tissue has never been used for vaccine production. The cell lines have been used but not fresh aborted fetal tissue…” Fetal tissue has been used in transplantation, but results have generally been unsuccessful and even more harmful when used in attempts to treat patients with Parkinson’s.

Dr. Lee discussed ethical alternatives to fetal tissue. She said: “…an individual can donate a small little biopsy of skin and from that you can program the cells from that skin to actually go back and become more like an embryonic-like phenotype…” These cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells(iPSCs). “So this is also a very powerful cell line-induced pluripotent stem cells-that can be used to study disease and they’ve actually been looking at using these cell lines to actually correct-if we know of a specific ailment- they can actually correct these cells and actually look at treating individuals after they correct those cells.” He said that “…what they’ve been able to show in the laboratory is that they(the induced pluripotent stem cells) can actually generate these organoids that recapitulate and resemble brain, lung, kidney, and liver.” The use of adult stem cells is another alternative that has proven itself to be successful, being “used to treat diseases and conditions such as cancer, stroke, and spinal cord injury.” Other alternatives that Lee mentioned include mesenchymal stem cells from amniotic fluid and the placenta and postmortem tissue, the latter taken from a body after death.