A team of researchers from the United States and China has made a breakthrough that has some ethicists concerned. The scientists successfully created embryos that are a mix of human and monkey cells. They hope the mixed-species embryos, which are known as chimeras, can be used to grow organs for people who need a transplant.
"These chimeric approaches could be really very useful for advancing biomedical research not just at the very earliest stage of life, but also the latest stage of life," Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor at the Salk Institute who led the study, said. "Ultimately, we conduct these studies to understand and improve human health."
In the United States, over 110,000 people are currently on the waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant, and a new person is added to the list every ten minutes. More than 8,000 people die every year waiting for an organ.
"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," Belmonte told NPR. "We are very, very excited."
Not everybody is as excited as Belmonte. Some ethicists are worried about the implications of creating human-animal hybrids.
"My first question is: Why?"Kirstin Matthews, a fellow for science and technology at Rice University's Baker Institute, said in an interview with NPR. "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."
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