A niche field of stem cell research in the state could be banned under a bill a Republican lawmaker plans to reintroduce, a proposal which could affect research conducted on campus.
Rep. Andr? Jacque, R-De Pere, said he is currently searching for a co-sponsor for the legislation that failed to pass two years ago. Jacque said the bill would not restrict all forms of fetal tissue research, only research on aborted fetuses.
“Researchers will still be able to gather tissue from miscarriages and stillbirths should the parents be willing to donate their baby’s tissue to research,” Jacque said.
He said the bill would have no bearing on stem cell research conducted in Wisconsin and is intended only to insure the tissue being used for study is attained in an ethical manner. He said scientists should not be able to conduct research on these “baby parts.”
University of Wisconsin spokesperson Terry Devitt said he was concerned by the bill. Devitt said the legislation could prevent university scientists from conducting research on fetal tissue cell lines harvested from as far back as the 1970s.
He added it could be difficult for researchers to attain the cells necessary to carry on UW’s groundbreaking research on diseases without the use of aborted fetal tissue.
“Wisconsin’s innovative research on the subject could be deemed illegal and our progress lost when only between four and 10 researchers are using this fetal tissue in their investigations,” Devitt said.
Devitt said he worries if Wisconsin were to discontinue research which demands on fetal tissue, it would falsely display the university’s disinterest in contributing to cutting-edge therapeutic solutions.
For example, the possible law could force UW transplant surgeon Jon Odorico to cease his research, which uses tissue from pancreases of aborted fetuses to discover prospective new diabetes treatments, Devitt said.
A 2011 UW statement said the university’s fetal tissue research is not unlawful or immoral.
“Fetal tissue, obtained from banks that serve institutions nationwide, would be discarded [if not used for research purposes],” the statement said.
UW researchers believe they are putting fetal tissue to good use with research that has the potential to save lives when the tissue would otherwise become bio waste, according to Devitt. He said the bill could jeopardize the university’s ability to research new ways to help people and to carry on a UW tradition of innovation and excellence that extends beyond Wisconsin.
“Lots of the research being done at Wisconsin on cancer, diabetes and other conditions could very well go on to help people worldwide, but not if the work of some of our key scientists is shut down,” Devitt said.
Jacque and other representatives introduced the original 2011 assembly bill preventing “sale and use of fetal body parts,” but the legislation never received a public hearing in the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Corrections, which never voted on the measure.
Jacque said he is confident the bill would find support in Wisconsin, as similar bills are already in effect in Ohio, Illinois, Oklahoma, Arizona and Florida.
“We had bipartisan support for the bill the first time it was introduced and it was backed by 52 representatives in the assembly,” Jacque said.