The following recent report provides references indicating that HEK293 cells were derived from an aborted fetus:
Sander Lee, T., Feeney, M.B., Schmainda, K. M., Sherley, J. L., and Prentice, D. A. (2020) “Human Fetal Tissue from Elective Abortions in Research and Medicine: Science, Ethics, and Law.” Issues in Law & Med 35, 3-61.
Footnote 81 in the article provides the following link:
This link provides a 2001 US-FDA Meeting Transcript of the FDA-CBER Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. It contains the testimony of scientist Alex J. van der Eb, Ph.D., who participated in the development of HEK293 cells. On page 81 of the transcript, when describing the derivation of HEK293 cells, which were a focus of the committee meeting, Dr. van der Eb states:
“So the kidney material, the fetal kidney material was as follows. The kidney of the fetus was, with an unknown family history, was obtained in 1972 probably. The precise date is not known anymore. The fetus, as far as I can remember was completely normal. Nothing was wrong. The reasons for the abortion were unknown to me. I probably knew it at that time, but it got lost, all this information.”
What’s the deal with 293 cells and COVID-19 vaccine production?
There has been a lot of confusion and even misinformation about 293 cells out there related to the pandemic.
Different types of 293 cells have been used in research on COVID-19 vaccines by different manufacturers, but there are no cells in the actual vaccines. Some have gotten that wrong.
Also, 293s are not stem cells and, more specifically, are quite different from human embryonic stem cells. This has also often been an area of confusion.
What about at the ethical or moral level? I personally see no problem in vaccine research and production using 293 or other human cells.
The uncertainty over the origin of the fetus used to make 293 cells leaves things a little fuzzy in that regard, but I’d said it also makes it harder to somehow condemn 293 cells as immoral to use in research, if that’s one’s agenda.
In the wake of federal vaccine mandates in the U.S., debate has erupted over the waves of fire fighters,police staff, and other workers who have applied for religious exemptions to getting their COVID-19 shots. The number of applications is likely to spike as the January 4 vaccination deadline nears for large private businesses and some healthcare facilities. And one common reason people give for religious exemptions is the link between vaccines and human fetal cells.
It’s true that such cells have been used either in the testing or development and production of COVID-19 vaccines. The cells are grown in a laboratory and were derived from a few elective abortions performed more than three decades ago. These same cell lines are also used to test and advance our understanding of several routine drugs, including acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin, and they continue to be used for treatment research in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and hypertension.