Chimeras Controversy

Chimeras Controversy

Angelina Fowler, Writer

Every day, 22 people in America die while waiting for an organ transplant, because it’s often difficult to obtain a donor with a short notice. But what if this could be prevented? Recently, scientists have been growing human replacement organs, such as livers, kidneys, and hearts, inside of animal hosts, most successfully pigs.

Here’s a walkthrough of how a human pancreas inside of a pig might come to be, according to The Guardian: First, stem cells are made from adult human cells. Then they are introduced into an early-stage pig embryo, and the hybrid embryo is returned to the sow carrying a small fraction of human cells. The result will hopefully be a pig with selected and fully transplantable organs. This human-pig hybrid is known as a chimera. The custom organ will be given to the human that needs it, and the cheap process could save countless lives.

“Chimeras”, two or more species growing together as a single animal, have been a fictional idea for centuries, but with the recent leaps in technology it is clear that chimeras are not necessarily restricted to mythology. There are multiple “chimera projects” across the country, and their rapid growth is starting to raise some ethical questions. It is possible that either purposefully or accidentally the human cells might overtake the pig embryo, creating a mostly-human, part-pig offspring, that has mostly-human thoughts.

“We are not near the island of Dr. Moreau, but science moves fast,” NIH ethicist David Resnik says, “The specter of an intelligent mouse stuck in a laboratory somewhere screaming ‘I want to get out’ would be very troubling to people.”  Even so, government funding has been banned, and as a precaution, researchers working with farm-animal chimeras haven’t yet permitted any to be born, but instead are collecting fetuses in order to gather information about how the cells of different species react with one another.