The US government has ended medical research funding for all scientists using foetal tissue, and cancelled a multi million-dollar contract for a laboratory at the University of California at San Francisco, which required the material to test new HIV therapies. According to a White House spokesperson, the decision was taken by President Trump himself.

The policy has been heralded as a victory for anti-abortion activists, though scientists argue the tissue collected from elective abortions is vital for understanding diseases ranging from AIDS to Zika.

Larry Goldstein, professor at the University of California, called the policy “nonsensical”: “Valuable research that is directed at helping to develop therapies for terrible diseases will be stopped. And tissue that would be used will be thrown out instead.”

According to the government, no other foetal tissue research funding by non-governmental laboratories would be interrupted. Applications for government support in the future will be subject to review by an ethics board.

Researchers at NIH, which funds most foetal tissue research in the US, will be able to continue their research until tissue supply runs out. While no alternatives to human tissue have apparently proven as useful, newer methods such as use of newborn infants’ thymus tissue take from heart surgeries appear promising.