Jun 20

Ban on growing human organs in animals to be lifted (The Asahi Shimbun, June 19, 2013):

The government plans to lift a ban on basic scientific research to grow human internal organs in the bodies of other animals for potential use in transplants, raising concerns about compromising the dignity of human beings.

The proposed policy change was presented June 18 during a meeting of an expert panel under the government’s Council for Science and Technology Policy. It will open the door, for example, to experiments to engineer human pancreases and livers in pigs and other animals. Such tests will utilize advanced biotechnology such as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

But the envisioned creation of animal-human chimeras, which have both human and nonhuman cells, could blur the boundary of humans and nonhumans.

A typical research program would use a fertilized pig egg, genetically modified to inhibit the formation of a pancreas, and grow it into an embryo. Injection of human iPS cells would turn it into an animal-human chimeric embryo.

Returning it into a pig uterus could result in the birth of a piglet with a human pancreas. Porcine internal organs are about the same size as their human counterparts and could therefore be transplanted into humans.

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