DeGette calls on HHS to lift restrictions on human fetal tissue research

Apr 6, 2020
Press Release
Move would help advance scientific research to prevent, treat and cure coronavirus

DENVER, CO – U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar today urging him to immediately lift restrictions on human fetal tissue research, which are preventing scientists from advancing important studies to potentially prevent, treat and cure the novel coronavirus.

In June 2019, the Trump administration banned all research using human fetal tissue within the National Institutes of Health and placed new restrictions on such research at independent labs. As a result, scientists at NIH and labs across the country have been unable to pursue promising biomedical research into conditions and diseases that affect millions – including coronavirus – because it involves the use of human fetal tissue.

“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,” the lawmakers wrote. “As a result, scientists at the National Institute of Health 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.”

DeGette, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations panel, also sponsored legislation last week – called the Protecting Cures Act of 2020 – to remove barriers to fetal tissue research.

A PDF copy of the letter is available here.

Following is the full text:

April 3, 2020

Dear Secretary Azar,

We write to ask that you immediately waive the restrictions on research with human fetal tissue, which are preventing federally-funded scientists from advancing important studies that could potentially prevent, treat, or cure the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

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.

Sincerely,