Several Democratic representatives have written an open letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, calling on him to immediately lift restrictions on human fetal tissue research, which they say are preventing scientists and researchers from finding ways to potentially prevent, treat, and cure the coronavirus.
Reps U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) wrote the letter as the direct result of the Trump administration banning all research on aborted baby parts within the NIH and imposing a new round of restrictions on research at independent labs. Their view is that the administration is being hypocritical and is dragging their feet by not allowing them access to this “material.”
“You have repeatedly stated that your agency is doing everything you can to develop vaccines and treatments for the novel coronavirus. However, in June 2019 your agency banned all intramural research using human fetal tissue and placed new restrictions on extramural research, including review by an ethics panel that still has yet to be set up. As a result, scientists at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and across the country have been stopped from pursuing promising biomedical research into conditions and diseases that affect millions because it involves the use of human fetal tissue—including coronavirus research.
Because of your restrictions, NIH is unable to utilize human fetal tissue to develop animal models of COVID-19 that can test potential vaccines and treatments to decelerate or even end this global health crisis. This inaction may ultimately put Americans further at risk of disease or death from COVID-19. Instead of exploring every possible option for a COVID-19 therapeutic, U.S. scientists are now urging their international counterparts to rush to conduct this research while their hands remain tied.
We urge you to prioritize science during an unprecedented global health emergency and remove all barriers to lifesaving research. The United States is a leader in biomedical research, and our nation should be leading the world to advance research that can alleviate this pandemic
The letter, which can be seen in full here, was likely precipitated by the actions of Kim Hasenkrug, a senior immunologist at the National Institutes of Health’s lab. He’s been wanting to conduct experiments using baby tissue for a while and has been repeatedly appealing to top NIH officials to let him do so, arguing that the ban imposed by Trump should be lifted because the pandemic warrants an exception to the restrictions.