Congressional Report: ‘Fetal Tissue Has Not Been Directly Linked to a Single Medical Cure’

Jeannette Richard | July 19, 2016 | 12:00pm EDT
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(AP photo)

( -- Fetal tissue has not been directly linked to a single medical cure in 90 years of fetal tissue research, according to an interim report by the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives of the House Energy and Commerce Committee released July 14.

“Fetal tissue has been used in biomedical research for over 90 years. In this time, not a single medical cure has resulted from this research,” the panel, chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), reported.

“While it is commonly claimed that fetal tissue was used to produce the polio vaccine, this is largely false. The polio vaccine was developed by Jonas Salk in 1955 using a monkey cell line, and is still produced using monkey cells.

In nearly 100 years of research, fetal tissue has not been directly linked to a single medical cure,” the 88-page report stated.

“Some might object that while fetal tissue research has not directly resulted in medical cures, it has helped advance the overall body of scientific knowledge and thereby assisted in producing cures. It is impossible to determine whether this claim is true, and if so to what extent. Yet the fact is that no one can point to a single medical advancement that critically depended on the use of fetal tissue.”

“In fact, vaccines against eight diseases (Rabies, Diphtheria, Typhoid, Cholera, Plague, Tetanus, Pertussis and Bacille-Calmette-Guerin disease) were all developed in the 1800s and early 1900s, well before the first use of fetal tissue in research,” according to the report.

The panel examined the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) list of approved vaccines which prevent 26 different diseases, and found only three (Varicella, Hepatitis A, and Zoster) for which vaccines were developed using fetal tissue. However, these vaccines rely on fetal cell lines only for “economic, not scientific reasons,” the panel reported.

“Almost 75 specific vaccine formulations have been approved by the FDA for use in the United States and not a single one has been produced using freshly isolated human fetal tissue. Eleven of these vaccines rely on fetal cell lines for historic reasons, yet all of them could be produced using animal cells,” the panel noted.

“Obtaining FDA approval for a new vaccine is very labor intensive and costly,” the panel pointed out. “Consequently, once FDA approval has been secured for a particular method of producing a vaccine, pharmaceutical companies tend to use that method in order to avoid incurring new costs associated with ‘validating’ the safety and efficacy of new procedures.”

Pharmaceutical companies continue to use vaccines produced from fetal cell lines to avoid having to have the FDA reapprove them, the panel explained, but “today other pharmaceutical companies use existing viable alternatives.”

At a hearing in March, Dr. Lawrence Goldstein, a scientist from the University of California/San Diego, who does research involving fetal tissue, testified that fetal tissue “play[s] a vital role in modern cutting edge medical research.”

“If we do not continue to use this tissue that is destined for discard, we forego the ability of researchers to continue to make timely and significant progress in mitigating, if not eliminating, devastating diseases like Alzheimer’s and improving the quality of life of many people in the future,” he warned.

However, the Select Investigative Panel pointed out that only 160 (or less than 1 percent) of a total of 76,081 research grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2014 funded research which involved the use of fetal tissue, including only two of 1,304 grants for research on Alzheimer’s disease.

“The fact that fetal research is such a tiny fraction of all scientific research calls into serious question the claim that fetal research is vital and that science will not advance without it. In reality, use of human fetal tissue is increasingly an outdated and unnecessary scientific technology, used only by a handful of scientists,” the panel report said.

The report also pointed out that the research most successful in the search for cures for Zika and Cytomegalovirus (CMV), two serious diseases which can cause babies to be born with severe health problems, including microcephaly, have not involved fetal tissue.

Only two of the 80 clinical and research articles published about the Zika virus, and none of the major advances, have relied on human fetal tissue, the panel noted.

Similarly, “fetal tissue has made almost no contribution to modern CMV vaccine research….There are 53 ongoing clinical trials of CMV-vaccines, and not a single one involves the use of human fetal tissue. The breakthrough on this devastating disease did not depend on human fetal tissue research at all,” the panel added.

“In short, human fetal tissue is outdated technology that is not necessary for modern vaccine research,” the report stated. “For example, current vaccine research for HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Malaria and Ebola does not rely on fetal tissue.”

The congressional panel was convened last October to investigate fetal tissue procurement practices after videos released by the Center for Medical Progress raised concerns that abortion clinics and fetal tissue procurement companies were profiting from the sale of fetal body parts, which is a violation of federal law.

The panel’s report also included evidence presented at previous hearings showing that “tissue technicians and the abortion clinics violated the patient’s HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] rights” by sharing confidential patient information with fetal tissue procurement companies, as well as evidence that at least one of the procurement companies, Stem Express, “may have made a profit when procuring and transferring fetal tissue.”

Invoices showed that Stem Express paid abortion clinics about $55 for each fetal tissue sample and then transferred the tissue to researchers, charging them $595 to $910, while operating what panel member Rep. Joe Pitts (R - PA) called “the of baby body parts.”

The panel noted that it has had troubling obtaining the documents needed to complete its investigation since “many individuals who have received congressional subpoenas have heavily redacted critical information, and some have refused to comply at all.”

However, the panel said it would deliver a complete report by the end of the year.

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