In a move that some scientists say raises serious ethical questions, researchers have for the first time embryos that are a hybrid of human and monkey cells.

Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratories at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, says that the research could one day slash waiting lists of organ transplants.

"The demand for that is much higher than the supply," he says.

Writing the scientific journal Cell, he describes how his team injected 25 iPS, or induced pluripotent stem cells, from humans into a number of macaque monkey embryos.

Over 100 of the embryos remained viable, enabling the scientists to study how the different types of cells interacted.

"Our goal is not to generate any new organism, any monster," Belmonte stressed.

"And we are not doing anything like that. We are trying to understand how cells from different organisms communicate with one another.

"This knowledge will allow us to go back now and try to re-engineer these pathways that are successful for allowing appropriate development of human cells in these other animals," he added.

"We are very, very excited."

However, Professor Julian Savulescu, a director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and co-director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford, told Irish News that the research "opens Pandora’s box to human-nonhuman chimaeras".

Chimaeras are creatures that retain the properties of two distinct species. In May last year, researchers deliberately created a human-mouse chimaera in order to study deep questions about disease and ageing.

Another team, working in China, has engineered embryos that were pig-monkey hybrids.

But work of this kind raises serious ethical questions. Kirstin Matthews, a fellow for science and technology at Rice University's Baker Institute, says the work blurs the line between what is and isn't human.

Speaking to NPR, Professor Matthews said: "Should it be regulated as human because it has a significant proportion of human cells in it? Or should it be regulated just as an animal? Or something else?

"At what point are you taking something and using it for organs, when it actually is starting to think and have logic?"

She added: "I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we're just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do."

Source: Read Full Article