A nonprofit group has filed a federal complaint alleging that Stanford University failed to disclose funding for research involving human fetal tissue and animals -- a pervasive problem, the group says, that's leaving taxpayers in the dark about controversial experiments.
The White Coat Waste Project (WCW), which opposes publicly funded animal experiments, pointed in its Tuesday complaint to Stanford press releases on experiments aimed at regenerating human cartilage, which is difficult for adults to regrow. These experiments are attracting special attention, however, as they utilized fetal fingers and other tissue transplanted into mice.
Without specifying the number of federal dollars involved, WCW alleges the university violated a law known as the Stevens Amendment. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) states the amendment requires press releases and other announcements to "the percentage and dollar amount of the total costs of the program or project funded with federal money."
The complaint filed with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) argues that Stanford Medical School's news center failed, as a whole, to report these amounts. When asked about the press releases, the school told Fox News it only specifies dollar amounts in stories about the grants themselves.
"Stanford Medicine does not cite grant funding amounts in any press releases unless the news is about the grant itself," spokesperson Julie Greicius said Monday.
When Stanford announced last year it had found a way to restore cartilage, Charles K.F. Chan, an assistant professor of surgery, said the research's success was "extremely gratifying."
"Cartilage has practically zero regenerative potential in adulthood, so once it's injured or gone, what we can do for patients has been very limited," said Chan. "It's extremely gratifying to find a way to help the body regrow this important tissue."
Tuesday's complaint to the NIH could add to mounting scrutiny surrounding fetal tissue research, the restrictions for which were recently loosened by the Biden administration.
While it's unclear how much federal money was allocated to the experiments flagged by WCW, the group says "the NIH grants listed as funding sources on both papers have received over $60 million."
Stanford's studies attempted to regenerate cartilage and identify a skeletal stem cell by implanting human tissue into mice. Both experiments obtained tissue from StemExpress, the tissue procurer that Congress investigated in relation to anti-abortion activist David Daleiden's undercover videos of Planned Parenthood. While each of those organizations has denied trafficking fetal tissue, questions have been raised due to Daleiden's 2015 videos and documents unearthed during his civil trial with the abortion provider.
"Fourteen human fetal samples were obtained from Stemexpress (Folsom, CA) and shipped overnight," one of the study papers reads. "Samples ranged in age from 10 to 20 weeks of gestation with no restrictions on race or gender. Fetal sample procurement and handling was in accordance with the guidelines set by the Institutional Review Board."
In a statement to Fox News, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, derided these types of experiments as "unethical" and demanded additional transparency.
"Taxpayers in Iowa, and across the nation, have a right to know exactly how their hard-earned dollars are being spent, and that's exactly why I've asked the HHS Inspector General to investigate these transparency violations, by Stanford and many others, and why I've put forward the COST Act to guarantee that hardworking Americans have easy access to see how the federal government is spending their money," she said.
"Right now U.S. federal agencies are hiding the fact that they are spending your tax dollars on unethical human fetal tissue research," Ernst continued.
Both Ernst and Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., have introduced the COST Act, which would impose penalties for failing to disclose the amount of taxpayer money used in federally funded experiments.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has also called on various departments, including HHS, to enhance monitoring of grantees' compliance with the Stevens Amendment. In a 2019 report, it said, "[m]ost of the subagencies and operating divisions monitoring compliance did not gather information from grantees about how the grantees calculate the dollar amounts and percentages in their Stevens Amendment funding disclosures."
Proponents of fetal tissue research have argued it can contribute to substantial medical innovations.
According to the American Medical Association (AMA), fetal tissue research has helped defend against diseases and understand viral infections.
"Research with human fetal tissue research has led to the development of a number of important research and medical advances, such as the development of polio vaccine," reads an AMA code of medical ethics opinion. "Fetal tissue has also been used to study the mechanism of viral infections and to diagnose viral infections and inherited diseases, as well as to develop transplant therapies for a variety of conditions, for example, parkinsonism."
It maintains, however, that researchers should adhere to certain ethical guidelines, like not offering money in exchange for fetal tissue.
Still, anti-abortion advocates say the use of aborted fetal tissue is wrong. "Federal agencies shouldn't be wasting millions of our taxpayer dollars for grotesque, violent and unnecessary human fetal tissue experiments on animals," said Democrats for Life president Terrisa Bukovinac.