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Swedish Researcher Defends Fetal Tissue Use

September 14, 1988

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) _ A Swedish researcher who has implanted human fetal tissue into the brains of two patients with Parkinson’s disease told a National Institutes of Health committee today it would be unethical not to use such experimental treatment.

Dr. Lars Olson, professor of neurobiology at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was among experts asked to appear before the NIH panel considering what U.S. government policy should be on such research which the White House proposes to ban.

One of the questions the 21-member panel of outside experts was asked to consider was whether animal studies have progressed enough to warrant using the procedure on humans.

″The animal data ... are so promising we have approached a point where I believe it is unethical not to do this in human studies,″ replied Olsen.

He said his human studies involve two patients who received fetal brain cell transplants eight months ago after suffering from the disease for 15 years and not responding to other treatment.

He described both as extreme cases, severely handicappped and out of control.

He made no dramatic claims, but said: ″There have been no adverse effects. It appears that we are seeing minor positive changes in the patients.″

He said the transplanted cells have not had time to fully mature and expressed optimism that the patients, both women in their 50s, will continue to improve.

The panel was concentrating on scientific issues today and will turn to moral and ethical considerations Thursday before drafting its recommendations on Friday.

A proposed executive order from the White House - not intended for public disclosure - would prohibit experimentation with fetal tissue.

Some members of the advisory panel, which includes doctors, researchers, lawyers and medical ethicists, were offended that the White House had proposed a position on the issue before the committee had a chance to meet.

NIH Director James B. Wyngaarden appointed the committee on the instructions of Dr. Robert E. Windom, the assistant HHS secretary for health.

The issue surfaced last April when NIH sought clearance for experiments in which brain cells from a fetus would be transplanted into patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Windom denied permission, saying new questions raised by such research warranted careful review.

Researchers are hopeful the new techniques will prove useful in treating Parkinson’s and a variety of other diseases such as Alzheimer’s and juvenile diabetes.

However, the treatment involves use of fresh brain cells, virtually requiring that they be obtained from planned, induced abortions rather than natural miscarriages.

The moral and ethical questions raised are illustrated by an expressed desire by some women to become pregnant so they can produce an aborted fetus to use in treating relatives.

Ethicists also have expressed concern that any guidelines for such procedures would have to deal with the possibility that researchers would pay for abortions in order to obtain tissue.

Gary L. Bauer, President Reagan’s assistant for policy development, sent Health and Human Services Secretary Otis R. Bowen a draft executive order accompanied by a memo saying he wanted to rush the proposed federal ban into effect as soon as possible.

However, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Friday that the proposed executive order did not represent official White House policy and was merely an early draft to get discussion started.

″It shall be the policy of the federal government, to the extent permitted by law, that an unborn or newborn child who has died as a result of an induced abortion shall not be used for purposes of research or transplantation,″ said the draft circulated by Bauer.

Surgeons in Mexico City reported last January that they had injected fresh fetal tissue from a miscarried fetus into the brains of two Parkinson’s suffers with promising results.

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