Research Funds For Part-Human, Part-Animal Embryos

Human-animal embryo creation is a frontier that seems to belong in sci-fi rather than the real world. Taken to its extreme, it could result in animals with human brains and humans with animal brains – and raises an array of moral and ethical questions, which US bishops, among others, have spoken out about.  Despite this, research that mixes human cells into animal embryos could get US government funds for the first time under a new proposal.

Some say the human-animal embryo research has the potential to spark major medical breakthroughs in diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s or conditions like infertility, and could help grow organs for human transplant, which are in short supply.

Critics, however, worry that these mixtures, or chimeras – named after the monster in Greek mythology with a lion’s head, goat’s body and dragon’s tail – raise complex moral questions and go beyond what is acceptable in modern society.

One year ago, the US National Institutes of Health placed a moratorium on research proposing to introduce human pluripotent cells into animal embryos, deeming it too controversial.

Since then, experts have met to discuss the state of the science.

Now, the NIH is offering to fund research introducing human cells into certain kinds of animals.

That could include experiments “where there could be either a substantial contribution or a substantial functional modification to the animal brain by the human cells,” said a statement on Thursday.

The NIH will seek public comment for 30 days on the proposed scope of the research.

Oversight on funding decisions will be provided by an internal NIH steering committee, it said.

“I am confident that these proposed changes will enable the NIH research community to move this promising area of science forward in a responsible manner,” wrote Carrie Wolinetz, NIH associate director for science policy, in a blog post.

However, the prospect of altering an animal’s brain to make it more human alarms some experts.

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News category: World.

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