As the chief executives of the biotech companies Ganogen and StemExpress, we are among a broad sweep subpoenaed — along with scientists, graduate students and physicians also engaged in research involving fetal tissue — by the US House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. In our view, this witch-hunt endangers infants and researchers and must end.
The panel's stated aim is to “get the facts about medical practices of abortion service providers and the business practices of the procurement organizations who sell baby body parts”. On 1 June, it released the names, addresses, e-mail contacts and telephone numbers of many of us in an open letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services. We consider this to be a callous disregard of the threat posed by activists to medical researchers who are in fact engaged in saving young lives (see Nature Biotechnol. 34, 445; 2016).
Research involving fetal tissue led to vaccines against polio, rubella and chickenpox. It was central to proving the link between Zika virus and infant microcephaly (H. Tang et al. Cell Stem Cell 16, 587–590; 2016), and is essential for developing a vaccine against the virus (Nature 532, 16; 2016). The chair of the panel, Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, should note that her constituents, and those of committee members Diane Black (Tennessee) and Vicki Hartzler (Missouri), are especially vulnerable to Zika because the mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti, is more prevalent in the southern states.