NIH Releases New Requirements for Fetal Tissue Research Funding

The National Institute of Health’s (NIH’s) new grant application guidance for researchers planning to use fetal tissue will require that all applicants adhere to the Trump administration’s restrictions on this type of research, according to updates issued by the NIH on July 26.

This change in NIH policy comes after the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’) decision in June to limit funding of research using fetal tissue donated after elective abortions. The Trump administration’s policy was met with objections from health and science advisers, but was well received by social conservatives.

As part of the new grant application instructions, scientists who are applying for research grants must provide a detailed justification documenting why their project requires the use of fetal tissue, and why no alternative methods could accomplish the same research goals. In addition, these new rules forbid graduate and postdoctoral students who receive NIH training funds from proposing fetal tissue research, a first for the NIH.

The Trump administration has already halted any new fetal tissue research by staff scientists at the NIH. Outside researchers are still able to conduct research but will face increased ethics reviews.

Fetal tissue is seen as a crucial tool in research which has provided researchers insight and the ability to develop therapies for diseases like HIV, cancer, Zika virus, and Parkinson’s.

NIH spokeswoman Renate Myles told The Washington Post that the new instructions were co-developed by the NIH and HHS, and that they will be effective September 25, coinciding with the agency’s next grant cycle. She also mentioned that the new ethics review boards, whose members will be responsible for the new process of review, are currently being formed. These committees will be composed of “scientists, bioethicists and others.”

Source: The Washington Post, July 26, 2019.