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Scramble for Tissue

The pause on procuring fetal tissue for intramural US National Institutes of Health research could soon affect cancer research at the agency, Stat News reports.

Earlier this fall, the Department of Health and Human Services, of which NIH is part, announced it would be conducting a review of human fetal tissue research to ensure that it was in compliance with applicable regulations and had sufficient oversight. The review, ScienceInsider noted at the time, came shortly after anti-abortion groups wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar to voice their concerns about a contract, since terminated, between the Food and Drug Administration and Advanced Bioscience Resource, which supplies fetal tissue.

This week, ScienceInsider reported that NIH investigators were also told at that time that they should refrain from obtaining new fetal tissue for their work. That, it added, meant that Kim Hasenkrug at NIH's Rocky Mountain Laboratories, who studies HIV, was unable to get needed tissue.

As Stat News now reports, the pause on procurement may soon also affect a cancer research lab. "If they don't procure new fetal tissue by, say, end of January, [there] will be an impact," NIH spokesperson Renate Myles tells Stat News. She adds that an eye research lab has enough stored tissue to continue its work through about February. Myles notes that NIH is working with HHS to get the labs the needed tissue.

HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley tells Stat News that the review was not "meant to halt or ban or cease research, and if procuring new fetal tissues is crucial to that work, then we will work with people to make sure that research continues."