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Scientists Make Part-Human Animals -- Good Idea?

Chimera_Apulia_Louvre_K362.jpg

Public money is being used to pay for research that create animals that are part human. From the MIT Technology Review story:

Braving a funding ban put in place by America's top health agency, some U.S. research centers are moving ahead with attempts to grow human tissue inside pigs and sheep with the goal of creating hearts, livers, or other organs needed for transplants.

The effort to incubate organs in farm animals is ethically charged because it involves adding human cells to animal embryos in ways that could blur the line between species.

This begins to cross into Dr. Moreau territory. Even the often compliant NIH is alarmed:

The agency, in a statement, said it was worried about the chance that animals' "cognitive state" could be altered if they ended up with human brain cells. The NIH action was triggered after it learned that scientists had begun such experiments with support from other funding sources, including from California's state stem-cell agency.

The human-animal mixtures are being created by injecting human stem cells into days-old animal embryos, then gestating these in female livestock. Based on interviews with three teams, two in California and one in Minnesota, MIT Technology Review estimates that about 20 pregnancies of pig-human or sheep-human chimeras have been established during the last 12 months in the U.S., though so far no scientific paper describing the work has been published, and none of the animals were brought to term.

Birthing these animals will be the next step. And who knows what health problems they could have? This is an animal welfare issue as well as bearing obviously on human exceptionalism.

Creating such chimeric beings isn't the same thing as, say, genetically altering an animal so their organs can be used for transplant, or inserting a human gene to make transgenic animals that produce a specific hormone in their milk for medicinal uses.

Hard regulatory lines need to be drawn -- which won't be easy -- and all public money limited to research that is both ethical and respectful of proper boundaries between humans and all other species.

Scientists clearly cannot be trusted to govern themselves on this matter. It is time to set well-defined limits.

Image: Chimera, via Deutsch: Lampas-GruppeEnglish: Lampas GroupFran�ais�: Groupe de la Lampas (Jastrow (2006)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.