Millions in federal money flowed to tissue bank that collected fetal 'heart, gonads, legs, brain': report

University of Pittsburgh said it 'complies with rigorous regulatory and ethical oversight'

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has funneled at least $2.7 million into a University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) project that utilizes a tissue bank with organs from aborted fetuses, according to a release from Judicial Watch Tuesday.

The conservative nonprofit obtained hundreds of pages of public records requests, which detail Pitt's interest in harvesting fetal organs for a project known as the GenitoUrinary Development Molecular Anatomy Project, or GUDMAP. More money was requested by the university but it's unclear exactly how much it received.

Pitt's application specified that it sought to "develop a pipeline to the acquisition, quality control and distribution of human genitourinary [urinary and genital organs and functions] samples obtained throughout development (6-42 weeks gestation)." According to NIH, 40 weeks is considered full term and while after 42 weeks is considered "post-term" or "overdue."

In 2015, Pitt told HHS that it has been "collecting fetal tissue for over 10 years … includ[ing] liver, heart, gonads, legs, brain, genitourinary tissues including kidneys, ureters and bladders." 

It also revealed that the university sought a large number of minority fetuses, according to Judicial Watch — something Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden described as "racist."

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The university told Fox News that the higher number of minorities resulted from an emphasis on those populations most impacted by kidney disease. "Projects funded by the National Institutes of Health must ensure appropriate inclusion of women and minorities," said David Seldin, assistant vice chancellor for news. 

"They should also ensure distribution of the study reflects the population needed to accomplish the scientific goals of the study. Asked another way: Does the makeup of the study reflect the populations affected by the illness in question? In the case of the GUDMAP Tissue Hub, one of the goals is to support researchers looking for treatments and cures for kidney disease."

In a PureFlix interview last year, former university employee Lori Kelly discussed a federally funded project with researchers seeking to collect bladders and kidneys from babies as late as 24 weeks into pregnancy. Kelly said that as project manager, she worked to develop "a pull-down menu of baby body parts for researchers to choose from to submit to the tissue bank, so that we could send the body parts to them."

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"And these researchers were all across the United States," she said, "from Florida to California." When asked, the University of Pittsburgh did not respond to Kelly's allegations earlier this year.

Both the university and its medical center have denied any wrongdoing. 

Tuesday's revelation adds mounting scrutiny to a school that has already received attention for its use of fetal tissue.

"The University of Pittsburgh complies with rigorous regulatory and ethical oversight of fetal tissue research," Paul Supowitz, the university's vice chancellor, previously told lawmakers. "The researchers in this matter followed all applicable federal and state guidelines and regulations (with Pennsylvania having one of the most restrictive set of requirements in the nation), as well as strict protocols approved by the University. The University’s Institutional Review Board approved the acquisition of stem cells."

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has also maintained that it complies with federal law. It previously told Fox News: "NIH is committed to ensuring that research involving human fetal tissue is conducted responsibly and meets the highest ethical standards."

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Earlier this year, Pennsylvania's state legislature held a hearing in which members discussed an experiment involving grafting fetal scalps, containing "full-thickness human skin," onto rodents. 

That particular project utilized tissue from the university's human tissue bank. It was also supported by grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is led by top coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci. While it's unclear exactly how much federal money was spent on that project, it was funded through two large grants — one $1,498,642 and one $430,270.

David Daleiden, the anti-abortion journalist who testified at May's hearing, said on Tuesday: "The NIH grant application for just one of Pitt’s numerous experiments with aborted infants reads like an episode of American Horror Story … People are outraged by such disregard for the lives of the vulnerable. Law enforcement and public officials should act immediately to bring the next Kermit Gosnell to justice under the law."

The documents uncovered by Judicial Watch also show Pitt discussing its effort to minimize warm ischemic time, or the amount of time an organ maintains its body temperature after blood flow has been severed. It's unclear how these procedures take place, but Daleiden has raised concerns about the university's stated use of labor induction abortions.

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"If the fetus’ heartbeat and blood circulation continue in a labor induction abortion for harvesting organs, it means the fetus is being delivered while still alive and the cause of death is the removal of the organs," reads a press release from his Center for Medical Progress. Typically, abortion procedures rely on digoxin to kill a fetus. However, both that and dismemberment tactics can ruin viable tissue intended for donations. 

In a statement to Fox News, Seldin said clarified the researchers have "no part in any decisions as to timing, method, or procedures used to terminate the pregnancy."

Ischemia time, he said "refers to the time after the tissue collection procedure and before cooling for storage and transport. It does not have an impact on how the procedure is performed, which is always at the discretion of the attending physician and determined with the patient’s health as the top priority."

Seldin added that all tissue was obtained in compliance with the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, which lays out a series of regulations for performing the procedure. It also contains a section banning infanticide, noting that: "The law of this Commonwealth shall not be construed to imply that any human being born alive in the course of or as a result of an abortion or pregnancy termination, no matter what may be that human being's chance of survival, is not a person under the Constitution and laws of this Commonwealth."

In May, the university provided Fox News with a statement defending the use of fetal tissue research.

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"Researchers at Pitt and other leading medical research institutions use fetal tissue in certain instances because it has proven to be an important method for combatting and curing some of our most devastating diseases, including ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injury and others," read the statement.

On Wednesday, Seldin added that "[t]his grant supported research to find new therapies for diseases of the kidneys, bladder and urinary systems, which are a leading cause of organ failure. By providing a central hub for researchers across the country, this program allowed scientists across the country to access tissue necessary to tackle this growing public health concern."