U faces questions on source of fetal tissue

Some lawmakers are concerned about where researchers get fetal tissue.

Erica Mahoney

The University of Minnesota has reviewed how its scientists use fetal tissue in their work.
 
In October, the school reassessed its research procedures regarding the use of human fetal tissue procured from abortions, according to an October letter to the Board of Regents from Brian Herman, University vice president for research. 
 
State legislators and some regents prompted the review with concerns about how the University acquires fetal tissue for research. While the University maintains it obtains it legally, some school leaders and lawmakers are upset the tissue comes from companies that may have illegally sold it to the University’s vendor.
 
Starting in July, some legislators repeatedly asked the University whether the school used aborted fetal tissue for research, said Rep. Abigail Whelan, R-Anoka. 
 
They were told no, she said.
 
In a letter to the board, Herman said that fetal tissue has been a longstanding research tool and that the school’s suppliers follow federal and state guidelines.
 
“The first thing I would like to see investigated is the process within the University that led to the miscommunication to legislators and what is being done to address it,” Whelan said. 
 
In an October letter to University President Eric Kaler, board chair Dean Johnson and vice chair David McMillan requested the school provide specific sources of fetal tissue.
 
They also urged that the University consider changing research policy to prohibit human fetal tissue purchases from any vendor that acquires it from an elective abortion.
 
“We continue to be concerned … that the University does not know the pre-vendor source of fetal tissue purchased for research,” Johnson and 
 
McMillan said in the letter. 
 
Kaler said in his letter that one of its vendors, Advanced Biosciences Resources, procured tissue from induced abortions at clinics throughout the country, including Minnesotan clinics, up until July. 
 
In Minnesota, there are three legal methods to dispose of an aborted fetus, which includes cremation, individual or group burial, or another method approved by the state. State law also prohibits aborted baby parts from being donated for research. 
 
The University has changed its fetal tissue disposal policy to match the state’s law, according to Herman’s letter. 
 
“I had high hopes that the University would hold themselves to a higher standard that would match the morals and ethics of Minnesotans who have placed into state law a dignified disposal law,” said Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, in an emailed statement. 
 
Although the issue may evoke strong feelings, Herman said in an emailed statement research using fetal tissue has helped create breakthroughs such as the polio vaccine and may help find potential cures and treatment improvements for illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. 
 
Luke Troxel, a University biomedical engineering student who supports Students for Human Life, said while medical research is a good thing, it shouldn’t be done using aborted fetal tissue. 
 
Some students also held a rally last month to call for the University to halt studies that use aborted fetal tissue. 
 
Still, Kaler said in the letter the University should continue to use fetal tissue for research. 
 
“I believe the University of Minnesota should stand with its peers … throughout the country who have recently endorsed a statement issued by the American Association of Medical Colleges endorsing the continued legal and responsible use of fetal tissue in medical research,” Kaler said in the letter.