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No Other Way

Researchers who took part in a workshop at the US National Institutes of Health this week concluded that for some studies there is no good alternative to using human fetal tissue, ScienceInsider reports.

Earlier this fall, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would be conducting a comprehensive review of human fetal tissue research to determine whether such work was in compliance and whether it was subject to sufficient oversight. That announcement came soon after a number of anti-abortion groups wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar to express their displeasure regarding a since-cancelled contract between the Food and Drug Administration and Advanced Bioscience Resource, which supplies fetal tissue. In November, the department said it would be embarking on a series of listening tours involving various stakeholders. NIH labs have, in the meantime, been told to pause their acquisition of any new tissue.

At this workshop, attendees said humanized mice — mice with human-like immune systems due to fetal tissue — are the "gold standard" for certain studies, including for ones into HIV/AIDS, ScienceInsider says. They added that the data indicate that other mouse alternatives don't work as well.

ScienceInsider adds that NIH Director Francis Collins defended the use of fetal tissue last week, which has led anti-abortion groups to now call for his resignation.