Scientists Mix Human and Animal Cells, Hybrid Causes Ethical Concerns

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 19, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists Mix Human and Animal Cells, Hybrid Causes Ethical Concerns Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 19, 2006

Washington, DC ( — Scientists are mixing human and animal cells in bizarre research that goes to the heart of bioethics and concerns over how far researchers are willing to go to conduct experiments. Yale University scientists, funded by the United States government, are inserting millions of human brain cells into the heads of monkeys afflicted with Parkinson’s disease.

They say the experiments will help them better understand the disease and possible provide a cure.

"The concerns about chimeras and mixing species may be justified in some circumstances," Yale researcher Gene Redmond told the Associated Press. "But there are strong scientific reasons to do it in many cases and great benefits to be had for humanity."

Redmond and his team are conducting the work on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts because the island, and its neighbor Nevis, have a large population of feral African monkeys.

Redmond told AP he hopes the research will show that supplying the brain chemical dopamine to the monkeys will cure the disease.

"There seems to be little or no chance that the monkeys would be ‘humanized,’" Redmond said, adding that the human cells he plans to insert would be few in number and highly specialized.

But researchers and bioethicists are still concerned.

Stanford University bioethicist Christopher Scott said "the stuff that raises the most ethical concerns" is the research like Redmond’s.

Osagie Obasogie of the Oakland-based Center for Genetics and Society told AP, "The technology is advancing quicker than the regulations."

Last year the National Academy of Sciences issued guidelines asking institutions conducting such human-animal experiments to create formal, standing committees to evaluate any ethics concerns.

But Obasogie says the recommendation has no teeth and he worries committees would simply rubber stamp the experiments.

"You don’t want a monkey with 95 percent of its brain cells being human," he told the Associated Press, "and to ensure that takes more than a recommendation."