UMN will change fetal tissue research policy

The changes will bring the University into compliance with an updated state law.

Natalie Rademacher

The University of Minnesota will change its fetal tissue research policies next fall in response to a change in state law.

Pending final administrative approval, the new policy will require researchers to justify the use of fetal tissue from elective abortions, as well as submit research applications to additional review boards. The state law mandating these changes followed an unsuccessful 2016 suit against the University alleging illegal research practices.

The new policy has been presented to several faculty and staff committees so far this fall and will be sent to the President’s Policy Committee for final approval in December.

“You now have to justify everything,” said Angela McArthur, director of the University’s Anatomy Bequest Program.

Under the proposed policy, the University’s Fetal Tissue Research committee will assess research applications to determine whether alternative methods besides the use of fetal tissue are available to researchers.

Researchers’ initial applications will also go through the Institutional Review Board, which reviews research projects involving human participants. This was not a requirement prior to the change in state law, Barbara Shiels, senior associate for the Office of the General Counsel, said in an October Senate Research Committee meeting.

Additionally, the updated policy mandates that the University submit a yearly report to the state detailing all fetal tissue research, including information about research proposals and feedback from the IRB and FTRC, according to the policy.

The report will not contain researchers’ names in order to protect their identities, McArthur said.

“Mandatory training regarding the respectful, humane and ethical treatment with fetal tissue for all researchers involved is also part of the policy changes,” she said.

These changes come in response to a law passed by the Minnesota Legislature in May that places stricter regulations on the University’s fetal tissue research.

This law applies solely to research conducted by the University, Shiels said.

Earlier this year, a lawsuit claiming the University’s fetal tissue research practices violated state law was dismissed by a Hennepin County judge, according to a court document.

The lawsuit was filed in October 2016 by Pro-Life Action Ministries director Brian Gibson and former University graduate student Bridget Busacker in Hennepin County District Court.

The judge dismissed it due to a lack of evidence, according to court documents. Busacker and Gibson filed an appeal in August, which was rejected for the same reasons, court documents say.

Additionally, the University’s fetal tissue policy was updated in February 2016 after the University made headlines for mistakenly denying the use of fetal tissue research.

Under those changes, researchers are required to obtain fetal tissue from sources outside the state of Minnesota and to dispose of the remains “properly,” according to the current policy. These provisions will remain in place when the new polices are enacted.