The National Institutes of Health announced it is planning to lift its ban on funding some research that injects human stem cells into animal embryos.
The New York Times has written a great article about the controversial practice of using stem cells for research. The idea of this can be off putting to some. Here is what Gina Kolata writes on the subject:
The purpose of trying to grow human tissues or organs in animals is to better understand human diseases and further progress in developing therapies to treat them. While no one is proposing making, for example, a mouse with a human brain, the work is an extension of something researchers have long been doing — like putting pieces of human tumors in a mouse to test drugs that might destroy the tumor.
But the very idea can be chilling: human cells getting into animal brains or human organs grown in pigs that would then be used for transplant, killing the animals, for example. Scientists have already grown a rat pancreas in a mouse.
The end goals of the science are to improve human health, to develop new therapies and to understand diseases like schizophrenia. The means to those goals, however, by making human-animal chimeras, will never meet with universal acceptance.
Like the article said the end goal is improve human health and therapies. So, do the “chilling” implications of the procedures out weight the end goal? The article doesn’t take a stance. However, it looks like the N.I H. is approaching it all cautiously.
Two types of experiments that are now being considered for funding would still have to undergo a review by an N.I.H advisory committee. The first is adding human stem cells to the embryos of animals except nonhuman primates like monkeys or chimpanzees, before the embryos reach a stage when organs are starting to develop. With nonhuman primates, , according to the proposal, researchers would have to wait until an embryo was further developed before adding human stem cells.
The second type of study that would get extra scrutiny involves introducing stem cells into embryos of animals other than rodents where the cells could get into and modify the animals’ brains.
The N.I.H. would continue its ban on funding any research that could result in an animal with human sperm or eggs that would then be bred.
This will continue to be an interesting story to follow. The New York Times article is covers the topic well and is well worth a read. Check out the article here.