Prof banned from fetal tissue research for violating policy

The University of New Mexico has banned a professor from conducting fetal tissue research after finding that she violated university policy.

Dr. Robin Ohls, a professor of Pediatrics and division chief of Neonatology at the University of New Mexico, was permanently banned from conducting fetal tissue research after two internal investigations, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

[RELATED: Lawsuit alleges UMN illegally procured aborted fetal tissue]

Ohls, who works in the Health Sciences Center (HSC), was found guilty of violating several university policies after failing to properly document her fetal tissue shipments and failing to get an internal review of her research.

Ohls reportedly shipped fetal tissue to the Zietchick Research Institute, a Michigan based organization that primarily studies eye health in infants, without notifying the HSC of the nature of the shipments or the scope of Ohls’ relationship with the institution.

Dr. Paul Roth, chancellor of HSC, noted in an internal memo that he was “disappointed” to “have to impose these actions and remedies,” according to the Albuquerque Journal.

“As a faculty member in the School of Medicine, I expect our research faculty members to familiarize themselves with policies applicable to their research activities, to comply with those policies, and if they have any questions about those policies to seek out the advice of institutional leaders with content expertise with respect to those policies,” Roth emphasized.

[RELATED: Univ. of Minnesota reveals purchase orders for fetal tissue]

The two committees investigating Ohls, the Human Research Review Committee (HRRC) and the Human Tissue Oversight Committee (HTOC), agreed that Ohls had violated policy by failing to properly file a “material transfer agreement” (MTA) expressing her relationship with the Zietchick Research Institute. 

The committees came to different conclusions as to the gravity of the violations, however.

According to a memo obtained by the Journal, the HRRC “felt that the MTA was not executed due to a misunderstanding of policy,” while the HTOC concluded that Ohls “knowingly violated” policy “on multiple occasions, and intended to mislead the HTOC.”

Ohls disagrees with the HTOC assessment, stating in an interview that “there was no willful disregard for policy at all.”

“I don’t think that what happened merits stopping fetal tissue research in our lab,” she added.

[RELATED: House report: dozens of colleges trade in aborted fetal tissue]

UNM is currently debating whether or not to destroy the 72 fetal remains Ohls was studying, considering that no other UNM researchers are studying fetal tissue, but Ohls is reportedly urging UNM to spare the research.

“If someone else can use it for research, why would you destroy tissue people have donated with the thought they might be able to help babies?” Ohls asked. “Why would you do that?” 

Campus Reform reached out to UNM for comment, but had not received a response as of press time.

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