March of Dimes: Fetal Tissue Research

Fetal Tissue Research Background
Fetal tissue research has been conducted since the late 1800’s and has provided most of our knowledge about development before birth. Such research uses cells and tissues from fetuses that are no longer alive. Living cells of fetal origin may be found in the amniotic fluid and membranes surrounding the fetus, in the placenta and in blood samples from the umbilical cord. They also can be gathered from fetal and blood or tissues after death. Fetal cells and tissues may be used for prenatal diagnosis, research into causes and treatment of birth defects, vaccine development,and experimental transplantation to treat certain diseases.

From 1989 to 1993, there was a ban on use of federal dollars for fetal tissue transplantation research. In 1993, the law was changed to permit the National Institutes of Health to conduct or support research on the transplantation of human fetal tissue for therapeutic purposes and establish limitations on and protection against use of fetal tissue that might encourage abortion. Approval by an ethics board, Institutional Review Board, and peer researchers is required.

March of Dimes Practice
The March of Dimes has supported fetal tissue research through its history. Fetal tissue culture provided the key to development of the polio vaccine, and Dr. John Enders and his colleagues won a Nobel Prize for this breakthrough. Studies of fetal lung tissues led to a prenatal test for maturity of the unborn baby’s respiratory lungs. Immunoglobulin from fetal white blood cells enabled researchers to understand the causes of diseases due to congenital deficiencies of the immune system. March of Dimes expert volunteers provide review on the scientific merits and ethical concerns related to this and any other types of research. The Foundation also requires Institutional Review Board approval.

White the March of Dimes research designed to improve the outcome of pregnancy,
including fetal tissue research, we have consistently maintained neutrality on the issue of abortion. This policy is reflected throughout the organization’s many programs, including research and other grants.

March of Dimes Policy
The March of Dimes supports the use of fetal tissue research as one technique to broaden understanding of human biology and pregnancy outcome. The Foundation invests its resources in fetal tissue research as appropriate. Because the National Institute of Health is the largest source of funds for basic medical research, the March of Dimes supports current federal policy on fetal tissue transplantation, with its safeguards against abuse or incentives for abortion.

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National Institutes of Health Report of Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research Panel. (1988)
Presidential memorandum on fetal tissue transplantation research. (January 1993)

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