Universities are 'ground zero' for human fetal tissue research, and taxpayers are footing the bill, new report finds

March 12, 2021
In The News

An exclusive analysis from the White Coat Waste Project obtained by Campus Reform found that American colleges and universities are “ground zero” for taxpayer-funded human fetal tissue research projects. In Fiscal Year 2020, more than $50 million was funneled to higher education institutions for this purpose, according to the report.

The White Coat Waste Project (WCW) is a non-profit organization working to stop “wasteful government spending” on animal testing. According to the project’s website, the United States federal government “outspends the private sector more than 2-to-1 on animal experimentation.” Because this research is largely funded by tax dollars, WCW works to gain more transparency and accountability in this area of research.

In 2019, White Coat Waste Project, Pro-Life San Francisco, Americans United for Life, and Democrats for Life worked together to expose that of the 200 human fetal tissue projects funded by the National Institutes of Health in FY18, 89 percent (177 projects) involved animal testing that cost taxpayers more than $100 million, most of which was conducted at colleges, universities and other labs nationwide, according to the report.

n July 2019, the Trump administration banned federal funding for intramural human fetal tissue research and created an ethics board to review all new HFT proposals and those up for renewal. In 2020, the ethics board rejected most proposals it reviewed. Despite these restrictions, many colleges and universities are still spending federal tax dollars on HFT research.

An exclusive February 2021 analysis by White Coat Waste Project, a copy of which was obtained by Campus Reform, examined the federal spending data for HFT research Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020 to determine the current state of taxpayer-funded HFT research.

The watchdog organization found that colleges and universities are “ground zero” for HFT research as these institutions conduct about 80 percent of taxpayer-funded HFT animal testing. Preliminary data for Fiscal Year 2020 projects that $50 million, 58 percent of Fiscal Year 2020 total, went to at least 44 colleges and universities in 21 states.

White Coat Waste Project Vice President Justin Goodman told Campus Reform that these figures are the “floor, not the ceiling” as NIH may update the site with more FY20 funding data and other projects could be added.

In the analysis, WCW reported that several of the taxpayer-funded projects involving the use of HFT were not coded as such in the NIH database. For example, the University of Pittsburgh received two grants totaling $430,270 in 2019 for a project on implanting human fetal skin and other organs in rats and mice but did not identify the project as HFT in the database.

The University of Southern California received three grants totaling $940,500 since 2018 for an HFT project on implanting human fetal scalps onto mice. This also was not coded as HFT research by NIH.

From 2016-2019, the University of Wyoming received more than $2.8 million to study the effects of implanting mice with fetal organs and force-feeding them human feces.

The University of Washington received more than $4 million in taxpayer money to compare human fetal eye tissues with those of mice and fish. This was done by breaking the necks of young mice, cutting their eyes out, and dissecting their retinas. Human fetal RPE tissue [retinal cells] were obtained from the Birth Defects Research Laboratory (BDRL) at the University of Washington.

When asked what the goal of the University of Washington’s HFT research is, Senior Director of Internal Communications and Media Relations Tina Mankowski told Campus Reform that “fetal tissue is a valuable resource for conducting biomedical research." 


"We receive federal grants in support [of] our research activities and follow the terms and conditions of those grants," Mankowski said.

A staggering $10.6 million was granted to the University of California-Los Angeles to implant human fetal organs in mice and infect them with HIV and cancer. Human fetal tissue was purchased from Advanced Biosciences Resources in Alameda, California without identifying information, enabling the university not to seek approval from the Institutional Review Board for its use. The mice were implanted with portions of the purchased human fetal thymus glands, liver, and blood cells. Experimenters then induced cancer in the mice and tested experimental treatments.

 

Campus Reform spoke with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) about animal tests using HFT. In 2019, Gaetz co-authored a letter of concern sent to the NIH asking for more transparency on the practice.

“As a staunch pro-life advocate and animal welfare supporter, I’m disgusted that taxpayers are still being forced to pay for sick and twisted experiments in which human baby parts from elective abortions are crudely implanted into lab animals that are then also killed and dissected. These disturbing new revelations about NIH-funded human fetal tissue research on animals have bolstered my commitment to fighting against this unnecessary and inhumane practice that harms the most vulnerable among us in society,” Gaetz told Campus Reform.

WCW analyzed funding for all HFT research from FY18-20 and found that even though HFT research is still being conducted, the restrictions put in place by the Trump administration have curbed the practice.

WCW found that from FY18-20, there was an overall 25 percent decrease in NIH funding for all HFT research as well as a 43 percent drop in the number of HFT projects funded.

Colleges and universities consistently receive the largest majority of overall NIH HFT research funding as 63 percent of all FY18 HFT research funding went to colleges, universities, and private labs affiliated with and/or housed at universities. In FY19 and FY20, these institutions received 66 percent and 58 percent of the funding, respectively.

In FY18, 71 different colleges and universities in 29 states received funding for all HFT research. In FY19, the number decreased to 57 colleges and universities in 24 states. Most recently, in FY20, at least 44 colleges and universities in 21 states received funding for all HFT research.

WCW also found that about 80 percent of HFT animal testing conducted between FY18 and FY20 took place at colleges and universities. In FY18, 66 colleges and universities in 29 states received NIH funding for HFT animal tests. These numbers decreased to 54 colleges and universities in 24 states in FY19. In FY20, only 43 colleges and universities in 21 states received NIH funding for HFT animal tests.

 

“In a time of such divisiveness in Washington, it’s refreshing that Republicans and Democrats can unite to fight against this waste and abuse,” WCW said.

Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) told Campus Reform about his solution for ending taxpayer-funded HFT research.

“For years I have led the charge against taxpayer-funded research involving human fetal tissue that is obtained by an abortion. It is now time for Congress to pass my recently re-introduced legislation, the Protecting Life and Integrity in Research Act, in order to permanently put an end to this horrific practice,” Luetkemeyer told Campus Reform.

The President of Democrats for Life and Executive Director of Pro-Life San Francisco Terrisa Bukovinac is also a staunch advocate against HFT research.

“Federal agencies shouldn’t be wasting millions of our taxpayer dollars for grotesque, violent and unnecessary human fetal tissue experiments on animals. This is an issue where pro-lifers and animal-lovers in both political parties can - and must - be united. We demand ethical research now,” Bukovinac told Campus Reform.

The University of Southern California, University of Pittsburgh, University of Wyoming and University of California-Los Angeles declined to comment on the issue.