“About one in 10,000 cells in these sheep embryos are human.”
Are you ready for Molly Dolly, the human/sheep clone? That day may be coming sooner than you think with the recent announcement that researchers may have created human-sheep hybrids that have been allowed to gestate for 28 days. Do they dream of sheep, humans, sheep-boys or something else?
The Guardian reports that the announcement was made in Austin, Texas, at the latest meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science by researchers from Stanford University, so there’s no weaseling out of the ethical implications by saying it was done in China. According to the report, researchers at Stanford University used previous human-animal hybrid research with pigs and moved to sheep, which apparently offer the potential for a higher success/lower rejection rate than pigs.
“For a pig we typically transfer 50 embryos to one recipient. With the sheep we transfer four embryos to one recipient.”
That quote is attributed to Dr. Pablo Ross of the University of California, Davis, who has been part of the team doing research on human-pig hybrids as a way to someday grow large numbers of human organs in animals that will eventually be transplanted in humans with the potential of rejection being drastically reduced if not eliminated completely – a problem encountered with transplanting pig organs in humans. This would also increase the number of available organs for transplants, allowing hospitals to grow them rather than wait for donors due to the death of another.
The Guardian identifies Dr. Hiro Nakauchi of Stanford University as the representative of the human-sheep hybrid team who presented their results at the AAAS meeting. Dr. Nakauchi is a stem cell researcher who has published papers on “Interspecies organogenesis” and “Stem cells and interspecies chimaeras.” According to the Guardian, the noble purpose of this experimentation is to genetically modify sheep to grow without a pancreas, then introduce human stem cells to grow a human pancreas in its place with the result being progress in the treatment or cure of diabetes.
What about ethics? The Guardian reports that Dr. Nakauchi thinks longer gestations of the human-sheep embryos in the sheep surrogate are needed (up to 70 days), cautions that review board permissions will be needed and said this:
“The contribution of human cells so far is very small. It’s nothing like a pig with a human face or human brain. We have published several papers showing we can target the region, so we can avoid human cells differentiating in to the human brain or human gonads.”
While the steady advance of scientific research is important, the steady throttle of ethical considerations is just as crucial, whether it be on religious grounds or the possibility of creating life forms that are potentially harmful to humanity. That’s the purpose of this article and why it refers to The Guardian as what appears to be the sole source of this startling – if it’s true — announcement at the AAAS conference in Austin.
Let’s hope more information on this possible announcement comes out and the ethics throttle can hold … not just in the creation of human-animal hybrids but in all controversial research.