A pro-life group in Minnesota has taken issue with a soon-to-be clinical trial approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Life Site News reports. What's troubling Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life? The trial to be run by StemCells, Inc. is using tissues from the brains of aborted fetuses.
The trial will test the efficacy of human neural stem cells for reversing the effects of dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease that is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness for those older than 55 with no current treatment, according to the StemCells, Inc. release.
While it is expected that the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life would be opposed to stem cell research as a whole, given that the undifferentiated cells are taken from an early-stage embryo, what the group really takes issue with is the type of cells being used -- HuCNS-SC cells. In a report on StemCell Inc.'s website, these cells are described as derived from "fresh human fetal brain tissue."
“StemCells Inc. is not using embryonic stem cells. A five-day-old human being at the embryonic stage does not have a brain, but a fetus at 10 or 20 weeks of development with visible fingers, toes and ears has a functioning brain,” said the MCCL's director Scott Fischbach. “Developing human beings in the womb are treated simply as raw material for laboratory experimentation by StemCells Inc. and other companies seeking to monetize aborted unborn children.”
But use of tissue from aborted fetuses is not a new practice. Controversy really began after 20/20 aired its undercover investigation into the harvesting of fetal tissues in 2000. Investigate Magazine, a conservative Christian publication in New Zealand, describes this as the "hidden side of medical research." In the U.S., the National Council for State Legislatures states that many states "restrict research on aborted fetuses or embryos, but research is often permitted with consent of the patient." What Investigate Magazine found was that University of Auckland, in collaboration with the University of Washington, is also conducting experiments using tissues from aborted babies in eyesight research. Here's the kicker -- the aborted fetus tissues are imported from America.
Investigate Magazine states it was tipped from source about a research presentation that used tissue it described as "obtained from elective abortions in the United States and was transported here for the experiments." The magazine found that it is legal in the country to import these tissues as long as they are handled properly.
Investigate states that the researcher and the supplier of the tissue -- in the case of the Auckland research the tissue was supplied by Advanced Bioscience Resources -- are subject to ethical oversight from committees and often have to obtain consent forms from the patient giving approval for the fetus' tissues to be used in research.
Also making headlines recently is the use of aborted fetus tissues in food research. In January, ABC reported that an Oklahoma bill was introduced that would ban “food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients.” ABC continued:
“There is a potential that there are companies that are using aborted human babies in their research and development of basically enhancing flavor for artificial flavors,” [State Sen. Ralph Shorty] told KRMG Radio. “I don’t know if it is happening in Oklahoma, it may be, it may not be. What I am saying is that if it does happen then we are not going to allow it to manufacture here.”
Some people are calling the bill a back-door attempt to ban embryonic stem cell research — a ban Shortey said he would support, KRMG reported.
Even more recently, PepsiCo was accused of and denied contracting with a company whose flavor products are allegedly tested using aborted fetal cells. International Business Times reports that Senomyx produces these flavor chemicals and was exposed in 2011 by the non-profit group Children of God for Life as using human embryonic kidney cells from the line HEK-293 in testing -- the cells are only used for testing and are not present in the final product. The New American reported that some stakeholders recently protested the relationship between the two companies -- a $30 million research deal -- and asked PepsiCo to “adopt a corporate policy that recognizes human rights and employs ethical standards which do not involve using the remains of aborted human beings in both private and collaborative research and development agreements.” The Security and Exchange Commission ruled against this effort:
PepsiCo lead attorney George A. Schieren had argued that the shareholder resolution should be disregarded because it “deals with matters related to the company’s ordinary business operations.” He added that “certain tasks are so fundamental to run a company on a day-to-day basis that they could not be subject to stockholder oversight.”
The New American has more on Pepsico's response:
In response to the articles, Jeff Dahncke, senior director of communications for PepsiCo, e-mailed The New American “to correct the misperceptions and erroneous information” he said had appeared in media reports about the controversy. “PepsiCo does not conduct or fund research, including research performed by third parties, which utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from embryos or fetuses,” Dahncke insisted, noting that the policy is clearly stated in the company’s “statement on responsible research“ on its website. “Any research funded by PepsiCo and conducted by Senomyx for PepsiCo must abide by this responsible research statement,” he said.
Pepsico's responsible research statement reads:
PepsiCo's research processes and those of our partners are confidential for competitive reasons. However, PepsiCo does not conduct or fund research that utilizes any human tissue or cell lines derived from human embryos.
In The New American, Debi Vinnedge, founder and director of Children of God for Life, points out Senomyx's own published research has shown that it uses cells from the HEK-293 line. The New American has more from Vinnedge:
She explained that the cells, officially known as HEK-293, were cultivated from the kidney tissue of the aborted baby, and then frozen. “From that point, the cell line is made available for sale by several companies, like American Type Cell Culture. The cell line is then shipped to buyers maintaining cold-chain temperature and subsequently either thawed for use or frozen in the buyer’s lab for future use. When it's thawed, the cells are cultivated to produce more cells.”
She added: “PepsiCo and Senomyx can get away with saying that they’re not taking the cells directly from a fetus, even though they are ultimately from an aborted baby, and the cell line still contains the full DNA from that baby, no different than if you were taking it directly from the fetus.”
She noted that “morally, it makes no difference whether an abortion was done 30 years ago or today. Time does not diminish the original act of evil, nor does it lessen the culpability of those who knowingly and willingly utilize the remains of aborted children for profit.”
Coming full circle, the pro-life groups protesting the use of cells from aborted fetuses research by StemCells, Inc. or Senomyx state that there are other alternatives, such as adult stem cells. Fischbach said, "Unborn babies deserve dignity, not dissection and destruction.”