Yes, you read that right!
For the first time in history, a government is approving plans to create animal embryos with human cells and bring them to life which will result in a kind of humanimal that will be dubbed as a human-animal chimera.
As per a report by Nature, the Japanese government’s science ministry has approved a petition by researchers to grow human pancreases in either rats or mice. This will be the first of its kind experiment to gain permission since a government ban was reversed earlier this year.
Speaking about this approval, lead researcher Hiromitsu Nakauchi told Japanese media, “Finally, we are in a position to start serious studies in this field after 10 years of preparation.”
In the past, researchers had created human-animal embryos such as sheep and pig embryos that were matched with human cells; however, the pregnancies were terminated after a few days or weeks. This new experiment aims to bring chimera embryos to reality in the future that will result in the birth of real, living and breathing humanimals.
While it may sound exciting on paper, these humanimals won’t be anything like we see in the movies like the recently released Cats movie or X-Men’s Wolverine or Beast. Instead, this research will be undertaken with the hope that in the future it will be possible to source transplantable human organs we already have such as pigs. This is because human organs for transplant purposes are quite scarce.
This research will see the team of scientists engineer rodent embryos that are unable to grow their own organs after which they will add human stem cells into them with the hope of having embryos develop from human cells. Nature states, “Nakauchi says he plans to proceed slowly, and will not attempt to bring any hybrid embryos to the term for some time. Initially, he plans to grow hybrid mouse embryos until 14.5 days, when the animal’s organs are mostly formed and it is almost to term. He will do the same experiments in rats, growing the hybrids to the near term, about 15.5 days. Later, Nakauchi plans to apply for government approval to grow hybrid embryos in pigs for up to 70 days.”
A science-policy researcher Tetsuya Ishii of Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan states, “It is good to proceed stepwise with caution, which will make it possible to have a dialogue with the public, which is feeling anxious and has concerns.”
Naturally, various ethical questions arise such as what if the human cells get into a test animal’s brain? These questions have been addressed by the study’s design. Speaking about this, Caroline Neuhaus, a medical ethicist says, “I don’t think they’d be worse morally from how we raise pigs for meat, but my hunch is that the way to raise pigs to retrieve organs would require a departure from the way pigs are raised [for research]”