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Scientists successfully create human-monkey hybrid, raising ethical questions

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 4/19/2021 Michael Lee
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Scientists have raised ethical questions after having successfully grown monkey embryos containing human cells for the first time.

“This paper is a dramatic demonstration of the ability of human pluripotent stem cells to be incorporated into the embryos of cynomolgus monkey when introduced into the monkey blastocysts,” said Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a developmental biologist at the California Institute of Technology.

Zernicka-Goetz and a team of other scientists performed an experiment that injected monkey embryos with human stem cells to watch them develop. The team observed the human and monkey cells divide and grow together in a dish, with three of the embryos surviving 19 days after the initial fertilization.

“The overall message is that every embryo contained human cells that proliferate and differentiate to a different extent,” said Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a developmental biologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.


The researchers say they hope the human-animal hybrids, known as chimeras, can someday be used as models for testing drugs and growing organs for transplants, but some scientists are questioning the ethics of the experiment.

“There are much more sensible experiments in this area of chimaeras as a source of organs and tissues,” says Alfonso Martinez Arias, a developmental biologist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain. Martinez Arias noted that successful experiments with livestock animals such as pigs and cows have been “more promising and do not risk challenging ethical boundaries.”

“There is a whole field of organoids, which can hopefully do away with animal research,” Martinez Arias added.

But not everyone agrees that the team is crossing ethical lines.

“Some people may see that you’re creating morally ambiguous entities there,” said Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University. “I think they did quite a bit of due care to be mindful of regulations and ethical issues.”

International guidelines are still playing catch-up with the rapid advances in the field, with the International Society for Stem Cell Research expected to publish updated guidance on stem-cell research next month that will address nonhuman-primate and human chimeras.


Some countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have limitations in place on chimeras involving human cells. Japan, at one time, had similar restrictions but lifted that ban in 2019 and began funding such research.

Tags: News, Science, Ethics, research

Original Author: Michael Lee

Original Location: Scientists successfully create human-monkey hybrid, raising ethical questions


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