The use of fetal tissue in scientific research has been a source of controversy, leading to both major ethical concerns and scientific breakthroughs.
While researchers study the possibilities of using fetal tissue for such diseases as cancer, AIDS and Parkinson’s disease, scientific breakthroughs have been achieved using cells from fetal tissue in vaccines for rubella, hepatitis A, chickenpox and rabies, The Associated Press noted. Rubella, also called German measles, had caused some 5,000 spontaneous abortions before the vaccine was developed, according to Dr. Paul Offit, a specialist in infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.
Researchers are studying fetal tissue in the development of a promising Ebola virus vaccine, the AP said. Fetal tissue is also being looked at for treatment of immune system defects, Huntington’s disease, juvenile diabetes, autism, and schizophrenia.
Fetal tissue has been used for decades in finding scientific breakthroughs. Fetal kidney cells were instrumental in developing the first polio vaccines, which led to saving 550,000 lives worldwide each year, according to CNN. Manufacturers now use other kinds of human and animal cells for the vaccine not available in the 1950s.
Vaccines for rubella, chicken pox and shingles depended on fetal tissue, including cells from two electively terminated pregnancies in the 1960s. However, the ability to grow fetal cells in the lab from earlier research and the advances in stem cell research have reduced the dependence on tissue from newly aborted fetuses.
Work with fetal tissue on finding treatment for degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, and diabetes has not been as successful as researchers had hoped, LiveScience reported. Many scientists have centered their studies on embryonic stem cells.
“The need or the demand for fetal tissue is a lot less than people thought it was going to be,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, according to LiveScience.
Caplan noted that many researchers focus on fetal tissue to study diseases of the fetus, fetal abnormalities, the effects of toxins on the fetus, and fetal development.
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