October 24, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Trump, GOP hypocrisy on Regeneron COVID-19 fetal, stem cell work

Are Trump and the Republican Party showing major hypocrisy over Trump’s use of experimental COVID-19 therapies in part developed by Regeneron using embryonic and fetal cells?

The Internet is kind of blowing up over this.

Trump’s collision with stem cells

For example, people are directly confronting Trump on Twitter over his recent all caps tweet about voting pro-life (see below) despite using the Regeneron experimental therapy for his COVID-19, which again used cells that the GOP opposes.

Note that while it’s hard to be sure yet if the Regeneron antibody cocktail helped Trump start getting over COVID-19, especially given that he is taking a slew of different stuff, I’d bet it did help at least somewhat.

Trump stem cells Regeneron
Trump uses therapy developed by Regeneron using stem cells, but tells people to vote “pro life”.

It was just last week I was speculating on whether Trump might directly receive an unproven adult stem cell therapy since many in his orbit are fans of unproven adult stem cells, but using embryonic or fetal materials has a different political charge to it.

Regeneron and fetal, stem cells

So what’s the deal with Regeneron and embryonic and fetal cell research?

Here’s Regeneron’s description of its stem cell-related research and philosophy. They are rightly focused on helping sick patients.

293T HEK cells, Trump fetal stem cells
Cultured 293T HEK cells. Creative commons image, Gerry Shaw.

The company uses a variety of cells in its clinical research including embryonic stem cells and HEK or 293T cells, which were derived long ago from human embryonic kidney (see image of 293 cells above). Thousands of labs around the world use these exact or very similar cells for research into probably nearly every known type of human disease, not just COVID-19. From the firm’s statement:

“The stem cells most commonly used at Regeneron are mouse embryonic stem cells and human blood stem cells. Currently, there are limited research efforts employing human-induced pluripotent stem cell lines derived from adult human cells and human embryonic stem cells that are approved for research use by the National Institutes of Health and created solely through in vitro fertilization. Research using such stem cells allows Regeneron to model complex diseases, test new drug candidates and can help unlock new scientific insights that ultimately could lead to the discovery of new treatments for people with serious diseases.”

I don’t see anything particular concerning in the document.

Long GOP anti-embryonic stem cell, anti-fetal tissue research history

What’s striking though is how the GOP is largely silent on their President’s use of these products. Many people are calling “foul” on this as the height of hypocrisy given the long-term opposition of the GOP to embryonic and fetal cell research. It is hypocritical, but I’m not surprised.

Ever since the time of Poppy Bush, the GOP has had strong opposition to human embryonic stem cell research and anything else in that same general sphere like fetal tissue research. Most recently, the Trump administration has blocked some kinds of fetal tissue research. While we haven’t heard the Trump Administration say much about embryonic stem cells, that block on fetal tissue research has had some negative impacts.

Vice President Mike Pence has long been opposed to research using human embryonic stem cells. If he or someone he loves gets COVID-19, will he or they choose not to get one of the new, experimental therapies on their moral grounds?

When you or someone important to you get sick…

It’s funny how things change when you or someone important to you is faced with a serious or life-threatening illness. For instance, while Nancy Reagan came to be an outspoken supporter of stem cell and embryonic stem cell research later in life, it was only after Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

We’ll see if anyone in the GOP says anything more concrete about Trump’s apparent benefit from embryonic and fetal research. In a NY Times article on the hypocrisy here, they quoted a long-time stem cell researcher:

“Some scientists saw a double standard in the president’s endorsement. “Hypocrisy has never bothered the man, as near as I can tell,” Lawrence Goldstein, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, who has used fetal tissue in his research, said of Mr. Trump.”

How many other GOP leaders, like all those senators, who have COVID-19 might be taking experimental therapies right now that were developed in part using embryonic and fetal cells?

Keep in mind that it’s not just Regeneron, but many firms working on COVID-19 therapies are also using the same kinds of cells.

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