Amsterdam University’s AMC teaching hospital is to actively approach women who have undergone an abortion or parents who have suffered a still birth to ask if they will donate the foetus to a special tissue bank.
Researchers will then use the tissue from the foetus to find out more about birth defects and normal fetal growth.
‘Very occasionally people whose child was born dead or had an abortion have asked us if they could help medical science,’ coordinator Bernadette de Bakker said in a press release. ‘But that generated too little tissue for real research.’
Parents will be asked as soon as possible if they are willing to donate the foetus because speed is of the essence to ensure the results of the research are trustworthy, De Bakker said. Donations will be stored anonymously.
Some of the foetuses will have genetic defects – the reason for most later stage abortions – or will have been subject of a miscarriage.
‘For example, we don’t know why one child with Downs has limited abilities but why others can go to a normal primary school,’ said the project’s initiator and genetics professor Raoul Hennekam. ‘Or why some develop heart defects and others don’t.’
The foetuses donated by parents who had an abortion for what the AMC terms ‘social’ reasons will be studied to learn more about normal development.
Abortion is legal in the Netherlands up to 24 weeks but almost half of all abortions take place before seven weeks.