Last week, scientists announced that they have successfully added human stem cells to a pig embryo, creating a hybrid animal they called a chimera, after the mythical creature.
The breakthrough, detailed in the science journal Cell, could potentially be the start of a new way to produce organs for human transplant. Organs grown inside the pig-human hybrid will be easier for human bodies to accept because of its’ partial human DNA. Once the organs inside the pig have reached the desired size, the big would be slaughtered and the organs would be harvested for transplant. This system could greatly benefit the 76,000 people currently waiting for organ transplants in the United States.
While the hybrid animal will still look like a pig and not display any human features, some ethicist have worried about the creation of freakish lab made creatures and raising pigs strictly to harvest their organs.
“I support the idea,” said Medical ethicist and the director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU’s Langone Medical Center Art Caplan on Boston Public Radio Tuesday. “The motive is good. It is to try to find ways to grow organs to meet this terrible shortage we have of organs for transplants. Scientists aren’t hanging around trying to figure out how to make a minotaur or some kind of freakish thing for their amusement.”
Caplan reminded listeners that while many of us don’t yet live with animal organs inside of us, we still ingest large amounts of animal DNA. “Many of us had meals today that consisted of animals. They incorporate into our bodies, it is not like we don’t cross that line of putting them in us. We also breathe in their DNA all the time... it is not like we are completely pure from the realm of animals,” Caplan said.
While Caplan supports the research, he does not believe that organs from the pig-human hybrid will have enough human DNA similarities to be accepted as a transplant organ.
“The model is great trying to grow these human organs, but I don’t think it is actually going to work out. Getting one that really works and being able to transplant it without getting it rejected because it has some kind of animal cells in it, I don’t see it,” said Caplan.