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Scientific Research Relying on Fetal Tissue: The Facts

EF Staff | Fact Sheets

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Research Relying on Fetal Tissue: The Facts

Critical for understanding human biology and development of new medical technologies.
  • This research has profound potential to advance clinical knowledge and treatment options for life-threatening and chronic diseases.
  • Researchers use fetal tissue to produce cell cultures that can be maintained in a laboratory environment for very long periods of time, in some cases indefinitely. The tissue can be processed to isolate specific cells or tissue types.
  • Research that relies on fetal tissue is used for (but not limited to) brain, eye, kidney, skin, pancreatic, liver, lung and spinal cord research and therapies.
The “gold standard” -an essential, irreplaceable resource for researchers.
  • This research holds unique promise for biomedical research; it does not provoke an immune response in transplant recipients to the same degree as adult tissue, and for some tissue types, fetal tissue regenerates more quickly than adult tissue.
  • Researchers who want to regenerate organs and tissues may use fetal tissue to learn how the human body makes them in the first place. Others look for defects in early development that can cause disease or miscarriage, or study normal development, which can guide therapeutic strategies.

For some avenues of research, there is NO substitute for fetal tissue.

Enables researchers to improve and save lives. 
  • Polio and rubella vaccines were developed from human fetal kidney cells. Without discovery of the polio vaccine it’s estimated polio would kill 640,000 people each year.
  • Fetal tissue was critical to the research for the development of a potential Ebola vaccine.
  • Fetal tissue is currently being used to research and develop treatments for a range of diseases and conditions affecting millions of people including:
    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • Parkinson disease
    • Huntington disease
    • Blindness
    • Pregnancy Complications
    • Birth defects
    • HIV
    • Zika Virus
    • Diabetes


Congressional Research Service, Fetal tissue research: frequently asked questions, 2015,

Wadman M, The truth about fetal tissue research, Nature, Dec. 7, 2015,

Boonstra H, Fetal Tissue Research: A Weapon and a Casualty in the War Against Abortion, Guttmacher Institute, Feb. 9, 2016,

International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), Human Fetal Tissue: A Critical Resource for Biomedical Research, 2017,

Research!America, Fetal Tissue Research, 2016,

Storrs C, How exactly fetal tissue is used for medicine, CNN, Dec. 8, 2017,

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