Donald Trump called medication he received to treat COVID-19 “miracles coming down from God.” But one of the experimental drugs he took was tested on tissue from aborted fetuses, even though the Trump administration has been cracking down on such research when it could help fight other diseases, including HIV.
Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a statement that it would be reviewing research proposals that use cells or other products derived from aborted fetuses in order to promote “the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.” The move was particularly harmful for HIV cure research, which relies on tissue from aborted fetuses for trials on mice.
Researchers called the move “politically motivated, shortsighted and not based on sound science,” while Christian conservatives celebrated the end of research involving “remains of aborted babies.”
That didn’t stop Trump from taking a cocktail of anti-coronavirus antibodies made by the biotechnology firm Regeneron, MIT Technology Review reports.
The medication is made in a lab from hamster ovary cells, but it had to be tested on coronavirus proteins that were also produced in a lab… with help from the HEK 293T line of cells that were taken from the kidney of an aborted fetus in the Netherlands.
Regeneron is asking the FDA for emergency approval for the experimental treatment now that it may have saved Trump’s life, even though the drug remains unproven. But the Trump administration hasn’t been vocal about the fact that it was first tested on cells derived from an abortion.
A spokesperson from Regeneron said that they do not consider HEK 293T cell lines to be fetal tissue because the specific cells that were used to test the medication Trump took were grown in a lab. The original cells were modified to reproduce themselves like cancer so that they could be used in research.
A Christian conservative group attacked research into a coronavirus vaccine earlier this year because it involved fetal tissue.
“It is deplorable that anyone would want to exploit the remains of aborted babies for financial profit especially when so many people will refuse to use those products because of their deeply held religious, moral, and pro-life convictions?” Debi Vinnedge, Executive Director of Children of God for Life, asked.
In 2018, the Trump administration put a “pause” on an HIV cure study because it involved tests on mice who had been modified with human fetal tissue, a necessary step in HIV research because mice cannot otherwise be infected with the virus.
Within a year, HHS had issued their statement saying that they would review grants for research that involves fetal tissue.
According to the New York Times, they followed through: HHS withheld funding this year from 13 out of 14 research proposals that involved fetal tissue.
“You spend your life trying to do good experiments and organize your science carefully, and suddenly, at the whim of some politicians in Washington, D.C., they remove a critical piece of your scientific armamentarium,” said Warner Greene of the Gladstone Center for HIV Cure Research. His HIV research – which depends on funding from HHS – came to a halt when he wasn’t able to obtain “humanized mice,” mice that have been modified with tissue obtained from legal abortions so that they can be infected with HIV.
“Everything I am doing involves humanized mice. It would shut my lab down if we were not able to use fetal tissues,” said Jerome Zack, who has used humanized mice for 25 years to study HIV at UCLA.