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Spotlight thrown on fetal stem cell research in USA

10 August 2015

Fetal stem cell research in the USA has come under the spotlight after an undercover video was released of an official from Planned Parenthood, a pro-choice women's health organisation, discussing how fetal organs are being used in research.

The video, one of four released so far online, was created and edited by an anti-abortion group, The Center for Medical Progress, posing as interested employees of a biotech firm. Its footage appears to show Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical research, Deborah Nucatola, explaining how to abort a fetus in order to preserve its organs for medical research.

Nucatola also discusses the costs that are involved in sharing recovered tissues with scientists, valuing Planned Parenthood fetal tissue specimens at around $30 to $100, 'depending on the facility and what's involved'.

The videos have prompted many Republicans and anti-abortion groups to accuse the organisation of selling fetal tissue for a profit. Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry commented: 'The video showing a Planned Parenthood employee selling the body parts of aborted children is a disturbing reminder of the organisation's penchant for profiting off the tragedy of a destroyed human life.'

Another presidential hopeful, Jeb Bush, said, 'This is a shocking and horrific reminder that we must do much more to foster a culture of life in America.'

However, according to Linda Tracy, president of the tissue procurement company Advanced Bioscience Resources, the costs mentioned in the video are 'reasonable' and reflect the 'time, effort and space needed to obtain the fetal tissue'.

While it is currently illegal to buy or sell human fetal tissues in the USA, the National Institutes of Health Revitalisation Act of 1993 does, however, permit the making of 'reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue'. What constitutes a 'reasonable payment' is not defined in the legislation.

Fetal cells are valuable for biomedical research into a variety of diseases and conditions, including spinal cord injuries, eye diseases, Parkinson's disease, and treatments for HIV/AIDS, particularly because of their ability to rapidly grow and adapt to new environments.

It is feared that the release of the video will have negative funding implications for research in this field. A bill to raise as much as $4.75 million for a breast cancer research organisation by was revised in the wake of the video, after critics linked it to Planned Parenthood.

While alternative stem-cell technologies – including stem cells derived from adult tissues – are being developed, they have yet to be fully validated so researchers still very much depend upon fetal stem cells in some studies.

Planned Parenthood maintains that its processes are legal and are only limited to a few states.

19 October 2015 - by Rebecca Carr 
The US reproductive healthcare provider Planned Parenthood has announced it will no longer accept payments for the fetal tissue it makes available for research...
19 October 2015 - by Dr Jane Currie 
Researchers have announced the first clinical trial of stem-cell therapy for fetuses still in the womb, as a treatment for brittle bone disease...
5 May 2015 - by Ayala Ochert 
The US National Institutes of Health has issued a firm statement that it will not fund any research involving gene-editing technologies in human embryos...
3 September 2012 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
A proposal to extend the definition of human life to 'all human beings at any stage of development' has failed to gain enough support to be put to a public vote in Colorado, USA...
13 September 2010 - by Dr Megan Allyse 
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31 August 2010 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A ruling of a district federal judge has halted federally-funded embryonic stem cell research in the United States...
19 April 2010 - by Nishat Hyder 
Over a year since US President Barack Obama announced his decision to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the widely utilised cell lines, H9 and H7, are still weeks away from receiving federal funding approval. The H9 and H7 cell lines were derived and approved under the Bush administration and are currently owned by WiCell Research Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. However, for months now the fate of these two much used lines has been uncertain. According to...
11 October 1999 - by BioNews 
A US federal judge has ruled that Arizona laws that ban the use of fetal tissue for medical research are unconstitutional. US District Judge William Browning ruled in favour of the plaintiffs which included four people with Parkinson's disease and Arizona members of the pro-choice group Planned Parenthood. He cited...
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