January 28, 2017 | Expert Insights
Human organ creation faces ethical roadblocks
- Embryos that are part human (less than 0.001% human) and part pig have been produced and are being analysed by scientists. It is the first proof of Chimeras - named after the mythical lion-goat-serpent monster. To create a Chimera, human stem cells - the type that can develop into any tissue - are injected into a pig embryo.
- Stem cells are undifferentiated biological cells that can differentiate in to specialized cells and can divide through ‘mitosis’ to produce more stem cells. Stem cells can now be artificially grown, are being used in medical therapies (bone marrow transplantation) and are promising candidates for future therapies
- The project was undertaken by a team of research scientists from the Salk Institute, California, US
Can Human Organs Really be Grown in Pigs?
- The day-old Pig embryo was gene edited to delete that part of its DNA that would allow it to grow a pancreas.
- Humans stem cells were injected into the embryo. The stem cells fills the gap and allow the embryo to grow a human pancreas
- The embryo is implanted into a sow and was allowed to develop to 28 days, when reported
- It is hoped that the resulting pig fetus will have a human pancreas. The same technique can be used to grow other organs.
What are the Ethical Concerns
- Human cells may populate the brain of the animal and the animal might be humanized. What rights should this hybrid animal enjoy?
- Human cells may populate the gene-line of the animal and the animal might pass human genes on to its offspring. Could this lead to the creation of animals with human like qualities or humans with animal like qualities?
Funding for many such projects were stalled on the basis of animal welfare and the possibility of humanizing a lab grown animal. Though the thought of a personalized lung grown in the lab for a heavy smoker is ambitious, it is a possibility. Perhaps, there is little to be gained from stalling advancement in science on ethical or philosophical grounds. After all there is also no method of monitoring unofficial and undocumented scientific research being conducted. The march of science cannot be stalled.