Nearly 700 University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty members have signed a letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel arguing that a bill being considered by the Legislature to ban the use of fetal tissue and cells would not only close off avenues of hope for patients, it would send a message to biomedical scientists and the biotechnology industry “that Wisconsin is no place to do business.”
“We wonder whether legislators have considered the ethical implications of denying current and future patients the benefits of the research that would be blocked by this legislation,” the letter says.
Research done with cell lines derived from fetal tissue has benefited millions in the form of vaccines and treatments for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, heart disease, and viral and bacterial infections, the letter says.
“The cell lines derived from fetal tissue are commonly used for research in laboratories worldwide,” the letter says. “Other tissues and cells, such as those derived from miscarriages, cannot be substituted for this research, despite the claims of the proponents of this ban.”
Legislators, UW Medical School dean spar on fetal tissue bill
One widely used cell line known as HEK293 is used in nearly 100 labs on the UW-Madison campus alone and is critical for flu vaccine development and production, the letter says.
“There is no suitable substitute for the HEK293 cell. To attempt to find a replacement for these or for cells derived in the future, in all their diverse applications, would cost billions and risk untold numbers of lives.”
As originally written, the legislation proposed by Rep. André Jacque (R-De Pere) would criminalize the use of cells derived from human fetal tissue.
It is already a crime to profit from the sale of fetal tissue, and abortion clinics say no tissue transfers of any kind are happening in Wisconsin.
The bill would go further than existing law and ban donations of such tissues or research on long-standing tissue lines — an alarming development for many medical researchers.
A total of 678 faculty added their signatures to the letter written by Michael R. Sussman, director of the UW Biotechnology Center and a professor of biochemistry, and Anna Huttenlocher, director of the UW MD-PhD Program and a professor of pediatrics and medical microbiology and immunology.