Legislation that bans the transfer or receipt of fetal tissues has passed out of subcommittee in the Iowa state Senate. Federal law already makes it illegal to sell fetal tissues for profit, but supporters of the bill say they don’t want aborted fetuses used in research.
Iowa’s Board of Regents, the governing body of the state’s public colleges and universities, is one of several opponents of this legislation due to its impact on research. Keith Saunders, the board's state relations officer, says if the bill becomes law, university scientists would have to stop work on a more than 40-year-old line of human embryonic kidney cells known as HEK-293.
"These cells make it possible to potentially edit genes and give us potential cure for many life-threatening diseases," says Saunders. "This bill bans the possession from any fetal tissue, and would prevent us from using these cells in the future."
Republican state Sen. Jack Chapman of Adel, the subcommittee's chair, says he’d consider an exception for already-established fetal cell lines like HEK-293.
Iowa City pulmonologist Dr. Alan Moy also testified at the hearing. Moy told the subcommittee he opposes abortion, and is a founder of the Cellular Engineering Technologies, which specializes in cell research, tissue engineering and cancer biology.
He says by and large, the field of biotechnology is moving away from the use of fetal and embryonic tissue.
"It is moving toward more quality control tissue, and that tissue, that type of cell is called the induced pluripotent stem cell," he says. "This is a technology that basically provides an embryonic-like stem cell, but it doesn’t require destruction of an embryo. It doesn’t require an embryo at all."
Moy says there are experiments in which there is no replacement for HEK-293, such as the case with vaccine research.
The bill next goes before the entire Senate Human Resources Committee.