CSU fetal tissue research halted after public concern

Sady Swanson

A pro-choice activist is arrested by U.S. Capitol Police in Washington, D.C. Jan. 22, 2015. Recently, a pro-choice group released a video claiming Planned Parenthood illegally sold tissue from aborted fetuses. (Photo courtesy of Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
An abortion rights activist is arrested by U.S. Capitol Police in Washington, D.C. Jan. 22. Recently, an anti-abortion group released a video claiming Planned Parenthood illegally sold tissue from aborted fetuses. (Photo courtesy of Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Colorado State University recently stopped HIV/AIDS research that used fetal tissue due to concern expressed by a Colorado congressman that the fetal tissue was obtained in violation of state law.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) wrote a letter to CSU President Tony Frank July 17 after a video released by The Center for Medical Progress claimed to show a Planned Parenthood executive discussing the sale of intact fetal tissue with undercover investigators disguised as buyers.


“I was shocked by the allegation, following the publication of videos and other documents released by the Center for Medical Progress, that, on Jan. 10, 2013, Colorado State University purchased, directly or indirectly from the California affiliate of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, aborted babies’ body parts for experimentation or other purposes,” Lamborn wrote in his letter to Frank.

Lamborn wrote that if the allegations are true, CSU is in violation of the Colorado law that outlaws the purchasing of “fetal tissue from induced termination of pregnancy.”

Frank replied to Lamborn in a letter July 23, where he said he understands Lamborn’s concerns and hopes that investigations will make research using fetal tissue more transparent.

“As a research university, we welcome all efforts that allow us access to more information as we navigate the ethical waters associated with several research areas,” Frank wrote.

Frank denied allegations of violating state law, saying that the law is “directed at physicians and institutions that perform procedures for the induced termination of pregnancy, which Colorado State University does not perform.”

In the letter to Lamborn, Frank wrote that CSU had received donated fetal tissue from StemExpress, “which is FDA regulated and approved,” but that CSU had not received any tissue donations since 2013.

The Center for Medical Progress accused StemExpress, a company that supplies researchers with human blood, tissue and other clinical specimens, of obtaining blood or tissue samples from patients without prior consent. In an Aug. 12 press release, StemExpress denied those allegations.

An invoice provided by Executive Director of Public Affairs and Communications Mike Hooker dated Aug. 8, 2013 indicates that the CSU Pathology Department ordered a “Fetal Liver Procurement, POC #03” from StemExpress.

[aesop_document type=”pdf” src=”https://collegian.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Stem-Express-Invoices-1.pdf” caption=”Invoice from StemExpress showing an order from CSU”]

Frank also wrote that CSU convened their Bioethics Advisory Committee. He recommended that “CSU suspend acquisition of fetal tissue from StemExpress, or any other vendor in question with Planned Parenthood, until the congressional investigations are concluded and there is affirmation that all vendors used by CSU under NIH support are in compliance with federal law,” according to a memorandum from the committee to Frank.


In an Aug. 15 press release, StemExpress announced its termination of activities with Planned Parenthood.

“Due to the increased questions that have arisen over the past few weeks, we feel it prudent to terminate activities with Planned Parenthood,” StemExpress wrote in the press release.

According to Hooker, the Bioethics Advisory Committee was formed in 2014 in order to “advise the (Vice President of Research) regarding the ethical dimensions of sensitive research in which faculty are either engaged or proposed to be engaged.”

Frank sent another letter to Lamborn July 28 alerting him of an “expired CSU project with Planned Parenthood which did not involve fetal tissue.”

In the 2010 project, a CSU researcher worked with a Planned Parenthood affiliate to obtain placental tissue for a study supporting healthy pregnancies.

According to Frank, the 2010 project required no fetal tissue — that the language in the agreement “incorrectly uses the term ‘human fetal tissue,’” but CSU never obtained any fetal tissue for that project.

“Colorado State University is a leader in ethical conduct of research, and we always welcome concerns such as yours as we seek to uphold our academic and research missions,” Frank wrote in his July 17 letter to Lamborn. “The research in question is medically important and fully compliant with all federal and university regulation, and CSU is proud that this program already has led to significant breakthroughs in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

Collegian Assistant News Editor Sady Swanson can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @sadyswan.