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United States Lifts Ban on Human Teaching

United States Lifts Ban on Human Teaching
August 15
13:21 2016
In Greek mythology, a chimera is a fire-breathing monster, typically female, with the body of a goat, the head of a lion, and the tail of a serpent. In the medical world, the world chimera refers to an organism with two or more sets of DNA.

Human chimeras can occur naturally (click here to learn more), but the news that scientists want to create animal-human chimeras has generated serious concerns.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of a part-human, part-animal creature is Marvel’s Dr. Connors, AKA “Lizard,” a genetic biologist who injects himself with animal DNA in an effort to regrow his missing arm. The experiment goes awry, and he ends up becoming a villainous lizard monster (pictured above).

splice-55422213a6629Another apt example is Splice, a 2009 film staring Adrien Brody about a genetic engineering experiment gone wrong (image at left).

Criticism

The US has received serious criticism for the decision to lift the ban on this controversial avenue of study. The new policy, which will allow scientists to mix human stem cells with animal cells, is considered unethical by medical experts around the world.

They worry that such experiments are akin to “playing God” and could result in terrible consequences, such as the creation of an animal with human-like consciousness. Another worry is that the hybrid cells could develop into creatures with human eggs and/or sperm, producing human fetuses inside animals.

The 2009 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research currently prohibit researchers from introducing “human cells into nonhuman primate blastocysts and the breeding of animals,” reports Wired.

The NIH now argues that the hybrid embryos would be invaluable to medical research and that steps would be taken to prevent Frankensteinian outcomes. Those in favor of lifting the ban hope to use the hybrid embryos to learn more about preventing and treating disease. Researchers also hope to create animals with human organs that could later be used for transplants.

“I am confident that these proposed changes will enable the NIH research community to move this promising area of science forward in a responsible way,” writes Carrie Wolinetz, NIH’s Associate Director for Science Policy.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure this research progresses because it’s very important to our understanding of disease. It’s important to our mission to improve human health,” she said recently on NPR. “But we also want to make sure there’s an extra set of eyes on these projects because they do have this ethical set of concerns associated with them.”

Human + animal research is not new. For decades, scientists have created animal models with human cells to gain valuable insights into disease development and human biology. These gains, however, have not stopped others from condemning such research:

“As a physician who is in the field of research, I feel strongly that this use of chimera crosses an ethical line…advancing our knowledge in some areas of science can’t and should not be approached with the same presumptuous naiveté,” argues physician Theresa Pham. “If the predictions are wrong and the safeguards are not enough, then the price will be the cost of our humanity as well as these new life forms that did not ask to participate in this frightening enterprise.

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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