For the first time, in history, scientists have gotten the thumbs up to go ahead and create human-animal hybrids. The creation of these chimeras, known as humanimals, has been approved by Japan’s science ministry. Researchers plan on creating animal embryos, which carry human cells, and bring them to full term. This will allow scientists to grow human organs in either rats or mice if their experiments are successful!

After 10 years of preparation, lead researcher Hiromitsu Nakauchi and his expert team are finally ready to begin studies in this field. Humanimal embryos have been created before, where sheep or pig embryos carried human cells, but their pregnancies were terminated after a couple of days or weeks. A living humanimal is yet to be seen. With the advancement in technology, it is thought that they will soon be able to create humanimal embryos and bring them to full term, producing a living humanimal.

What’s The Point Of This?

The aim of this experiment is not to grow animal-people chimeras (like the nightmarish characters in the musical, cats) or to give people the option of obtaining animal characteristics.  Researchers hope that one day they will be able to grow human organs inside animals, which they can then use for organ transplants. In the US alone, there are 114,000 people on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant.

Researchers will start by engineering rodent embryos that are incapable of growing their own pancreases. They will then put human stem cells into them, in the hopes that the embryos will develop pancreases from human cells. Eventually, they hope to grow transplantable organs in larger animals, that they already have the means to slaughter, like pigs.

How Does it Work? A Humanimal.

In 2017, Nakauchi and his team successfully cured a mouse of diabetes, using this new-found stem cell technology. The team injected mouse stem cells into the embryo of a rat that was unable to produce a pancreas. This rat grew a pancreas, made up purely of mouse cells! This pancreas was then transplanted into a diabetic mouse and the new organ was able to control the blood sugar levels effectively!

Injecting rodent DNA into other rodents and successfully transplanting organs between rodents is no mean feat but it is marginally easier than growing organs with human cells inside animals that are genetically distant from humans, such as pigs. In 2018 the team attempted to grow a pancreas, using human stem cells, in a sheep. However, the humanimal embryos, grown for 28, did not produce a pancreas – possibly because of the genetic distance of the two species.

Is This Ethical or Safe?

Good question! Nakauchi, the head of this experiment, has stated that should human cells get into the embryos brains, they will be pausing the experiment. Not because it would make the humanimal more human but because it may affect the cognition of the creature, which would be inhuman. It is largely because of ethical concerns that experiments like this were not allowed before now.

To some, harvesting the organs of animals for transplant, isn’t any morally worse than raising animals to kill for food. Many believe that the need for organs for people in life-threatening situations outweigh the rights of animals. It can be seen as a necessary evil. Of course for some, even the consumption of animal meat is unethical. Many argue that allowing the humanimal embryos to grow to full term, and become live creatures is opening up a whole new can of ethical worms. Animal rights activists believe that animals have the right to life and a good quality of life, thus shouldn’t be involved in medical experiments. 

The ethical debate on these latest experiments using animals, join the long-debated ethics of using animals in medical testing. Animals such as pigs may not really have any rights but humans do, so how much human DNA will it take to make a humanimal human? Stanford University researcher, Nakauchi, adds that the “contribution of human cells so far is very small. It’s nothing like a pig with a human face or human brain”, the humanimals will be remaining much more animal than human. GMO humans, to some degree. Quite creepy to say the least.

Half Human-Half Cat…

Although the humanimal experiments are controversial and far from perfect, it is a stepping stone in medical technology and will hopefully, in time, save many human lives. Giving the genetic distance of humans and animals like pigs and sheep, it may be a while before we’re seeing an abundance of newly grown human organs, but the day will certainly come! But don’t worry, you won’t be seeing any half human-half cat creatures walking down the street, those disturbing creatures will be firmly limited to the Broadway stage.

Personally, we’ve seen the detrimental affects of GMO food and their creation. The promise of abundance. GMO in human form may not be the smartest move after all. Unless it’s in a controlled environment. But even then, what if something goes wrong? What then?

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