The Federal Government plans to lift the ban on funding controversial experiments in which researchers use human stem cells to create partially human-animal embryos.
After the initial ban for ethical reasons, the National Institutes of Health is proposing a new policy. This new policy would permit scientists to receive federal money to create these embryos, which are known as chimeras, under carefully monitored conditions.
One issue that scientists might inadvertently create animals that have partly human brains, endowing them with some semblance of human consciousness or human thinking abilities. Another is that they could develop into animals with human sperm and eggs and breed, producing human embryos or fetuses inside animals or hybrid creatures.
However, some scientists have argued that they could take steps to prevent those outcomes and that the embryos provide invaluable tools for medical research.
Scientists hope to use the embryos to create animal models of human diseases, which could lead to new ways of preventing and treating illnesses. Researchers also hope to produce sheep, pigs, and cows with human hearts, kidneys livers pancreases and possibly other organs that would be suitable for transplants.
Several scientists have said that they are excited for the new policy, “It’s very, very welcome news that NIH will consider funding this type of research,” says Pablo Ross, a developmental biologist at the University of California, Davis, trying to grow human organs in farm animals. “We need funding to be able to answer some very important questions.”
But critics denounced the decision. “Science fiction writers might have imagined worlds like this — like The Island of Dr. Moreau, Brave New World, Frankenstein,” says Stuart Newman, a biologist at New York Medical College. “They’ve been speculations. But now they’re becoming more real. And I think that we just can’t say that since it’s possible then let’s do it.”
What a strange, strange world we live in…