Government to lift moratorium on cross-species, ‘Chimera’ research

By Bradford Richardson - The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2016

The National Institutes of Health is planning to lift a moratorium on funding for research studying the effects of injecting animal embryos with human stem cells.
The agency last year issued a moratorium for such funding while it studied the issue further. But NPR is reporting the NIH plans to lift that reprieve and allow scientists to conduct so-called “Chimera” experiments under strict and closely monitored parameters.

“They want to take human stem cells and put them inside these animal embryos, in the hopes that the human stem cells, which can become any kind of cell or tissue in the body, will become integrated into the embryos and then develop into animals that have partially or even fully human parts in their bodies,” said NPR health correspondent Rob Stein on Thursday.

Scientists say the experiment could lead to major medical breakthroughs that could save countless human lives, such as the ability to grow human organs that could be used to save the lives of patients in need of transplants.
Additionally, researchers hope growing human body parts in animal embryos will allow them to study those parts more closely, perhaps leading to medical breakthroughs in how to cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Scientists say the experiment could lead to major medical breakthroughs that could save countless human lives, such as the ability to grow human organs that could be used to save the lives of patients in need of transplants.
Additionally, researchers hope growing human body parts in animal embryos will allow them to study those parts more closely, perhaps leading to medical breakthroughs in how to cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
But the experiments bring up difficult ethical questions about how to treat potentially partially human species.

“Critics say that this is dangerous because it blurs the line between humans and other species and starts to raise questions about what are these creatures,” Mr. Stein said. “Are they animals or are they partially human? And if they are partially human, how do we treat them?”
A survey released by the Pew Research Center last week indicates Americans are squeamish when it comes to the prospect of gene editing — at least on human subjects — viewing such experiments as meddling with nature.
Although some said they were both concerned and excited about the prospect, 68 percent of respondents expressed some worry about the idea of editing the genes of babies in order to reduce the risk of disease.
In order to alleviate those concerns, the NIH would not permit funding for experiments on primate embryos. Chimera experiments would also have to go through extra layers of scrutiny, especially if they run the risk of drastically changing the brains of the animals, which researchers worry could induce a human-like state of sentience.
The general public will reportedly have one month to comment on the lifting of the moratorium before it goes into effect.