Scientists announced this week that they successfully created the first human-pig hybrid, a living pig embryo with some human characteristics.
National Geographic reports the disturbing new experiment involved pig embryos injected with human cells. Researchers at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California said they implanted the living pig-human embryos, or chimeras, in adult pigs’ wombs and allowed them to grow between three and four weeks. Later, the scientists said they removed the creatures, which then died, and studied them.
Jun Wu, a lead study author, told National Geographic that the researchers created 186 later-stage pig-human embryos that survived until removed from the womb.
“… we estimate [each had] about one in 100,000 human cells,” Wu said.
Here’s more from the India Times:
Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, the project’s leader, said, “The ultimate goal is to grow functional and transplantable tissue or organs, but we are far away from that. This is an important first step.” …
This experiment is only the first stage and a fully developed pig-human, scientists say, is a long way away. A fully developed chimera with human tissue can be used to study human disease and the differences in organs in different species.
Concerns have been expressed over the ethics of this experiment and anxiety over what animals with human brains mean to society. Belmonte said, “The idea of having an animal being born composing of human cells creates some feelings that need to be addressed. Not everything that science can do we should do. We are not living in a niche lab, we live with other people – and society needs to decide what can be done. Our next challenge is to improve efficiency and guide the human cells into forming a particular organ in pigs.”
The experiment was funded by private donors because it was not eligible for taxpayer funding in the United States, according to the reports. There is wide-spread societal discomfort with the ethics of creating creatures that are part human, part animal, but it has not stopped several U.S. research groups from delving into the controversial experimentation anyway.
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University of Rochester researchers implanted newborn mice with nascent human glial cells to test brain activity involved with learning and memory, LifeNews reported. The University of Wisconsin also has conducted human-animal hybrid studies.
Scientists at the University of California, Davis also are trying to use pigs as “biological incubators” to grow human organs, according to the report. Walter Low, a professor at the University of Minnesota, said scientists hope to develop a method to grow various organs for transplant, including pancreases, hearts, livers, kidneys, lungs and corneas.
Low explained that cells would be taken from the patient needing an organ and used to grow “an exact genetic copy” of that organ in a pig embryo. This method would reduce the chance of a patient’s body rejecting the organ transplant, he said.
Bioethicist Wesley Smith has previously warned about experiments with human-animal hybrids and letting scientists police themselves — because they often throw ethics and a respect for human life out the window.
The real question is when are we going to enforce the regulations with sharp teeth? Do we need to criminalize these experiments to get scientists to stop? Because when we say, “ban ” certain kinds of experiments, we are pejoratively labeled as “anti science,” and that we should trust “the scientists” not to stray too far afield.
Talk is cheap. The truth is, I think many scientists oppose any permanent and meaningful restraints–on themselves and each other. If I am right, society will have to forcefully take matters into its own hands.