Ben Carson Once Studied Fetal Brain Tissue, Now Calls the Research 'Disturbing'

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson appears on Fox Business Network on August 12. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson once conducted research on fetal brain tissue—and published his findings—to better understand how the human brain develops. Recently, the retired neurosurgeon called such tissue research "disturbing."

A 1992 study published by Carson and three of his colleagues at John Hopkins University was disclosed Wednesday in a blog post by Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB-GYN. She said Carson and his co-workers at the Baltimore university during the study used tissue from the fetal brain and nasal cavity to better understand the development of chambers in the brain.

The idea of using infants' body parts for medical research after an abortion was part of a controversial Planned Parenthood video that surfaced last month. Carson responded to the footage, telling Fox News: "At 17 weeks, you've got a nice little nose and little fingers and hands and the heart's beating. It can respond to environmental stimulus. How can you believe that that's just an irrelevant mass of cells? That's what they want you to believe, when in fact it is a human being."

Carson told Fox News it is "disturbing" that some people don't even realize the "callousness with which we are treating human life." He added: "There's nothing that can't be done without fetal tissue." Carson was the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins for almost 30 years, and supports defunding Planned Parenthood, a belief voiced by the other GOP presidential candidates.

Carson's campaign didn't immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment. But in an interview with The Washington Post, he called Gunter's revelation "desperate" and ignorant.

"To willfully ignore evidence that you have for some ideological reason is wrong. If you're killing babies and taking the tissue, that's a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it," he told the newspaper.

Gunter wrote that Carson should be "intimately aware" that "without fetal tissue neurosciences research, something essential for the development of neurosurgical techniques, would be far less developed."

She added: "As a neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson knows full well that fetal tissue is essential for medical research. His discipline would have a hard time being where it is today without that kind of work."

A CNN poll released days after last week's GOP primary debate showed that Carson ranks second among likely Republican primary voters in Iowa. With 14 percent support, he followed real estate mogul Donald Trump in overall performance.