A group of Japanese scientists is working on the first human-animal hybrid embryos. They plan to bring the embryo to term and this may give the world the first living human-animal hybrid.
Nature reported that the science ministry of Japan has given green light to a group of researchers who work on growing human pancreas inside of rodents. The government repealed the ban on the practice, and researchers used the first opportunity to make a request.
Hiromitsu Nakauchi is the lead researcher of the study. In an interview with the Japanese newspaper, Asahi Nakauchi said that his team has been working on this experiment for a decade.
“Finally, we are in a position to start serious studies in this field after 10 years of preparation,” Nakauchi said.
Authorities didn’t allow the creation of previous experiments on these hybrid embryos, and they were exterminated before birth.
According to Nakauchi, they are trying to genetically engineer animals that don’t grow a specific organ during the early stages of their development. This experiment helps the animal grow a human organ. Nakauchi and his team experiment with the pancreas at this phase.
“We are trying to do targeted organ generation, so the cells go only to the pancreas,” he says.
“The strategy that he and other scientists are exploring is to create an animal embryo that lacks a gene necessary for the production of a certain organ, such as the pancreas, and then to inject human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into the animal embryo,” an article in Nature read.
“iPS cells are those that have been reprogrammed to an embryonic-like state and can give rise to almost all cell types. As the animal develops, it uses the human iPS cells to make the organ, which it cannot make with its own cells.”
Human-animal hybrid embryos to grow organs for transplantation? https://t.co/hvAGtdizuQ by @cyranowski @NatureNews
The research is going forward in Japan, and will certainly stir debate among bioethicists @NatureNews pic.twitter.com/j5S2c8eHxw
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) July 26, 2019
There are many ethical concerns about the project. People are worried that this may be cruel and inhumane to raise an animal just to harvest its organs.
In 2017, medical ethicist Carolyn Neuhaus had an interview with Gizmodo and talked about all the scientific debates that have to take place before this technology is made available for the public.
“I don’t think they’d be worse morally from how we raise pigs for meat, but my hunch is that the way to raise pigs to retrieve organs would require a departure from the way pigs are raised [for research].”