Japan OKs human-animal hybrid experiments using stem cells

Japan has OK’d research for scientists who want to study the collective human psyche, among other things human, as part of research “into human-animal embryos.” A hybrid of sorts. This is the first time this type of experiment has been approved in an “official” capacity in Japan and it is set to be the first of many to come.

Other countries have also announced successful experimentation in this area using stem cells.

Hiromitsu Nakauchi, the scientist who received approval to go forward with the experiments by the Japanese government, is a stem cell researcher, and the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Tokyo director. He is also Stanford’s Nakauchi Lab team leader. According to the report, the goal is to ultimately create human organs that can be harvested for transplants and thus cutting the wait time for various transplants significantly.

At the current rate, many people on the transplant waitlists don’t live long enough to receive one. Over 100,000 people need heart transplants every year, but “only about 2,000 receive one.” According to the data, numerous factors affect how long a person waits, but essentially it comes down to a healthy donor passing away who is a match for what’s needed.

Nakauchi apparently plans to grow mouse embryos fused with human stem cells. However, according to the report, he won’t bring those embryos to term. Instead, he’ll stop the experiments after 14.5 days, which gives the embryos just enough time to form most of its organs fully, at which time, he’ll destroy them.

Nakauchi is no stranger to these types of experiments, either. In 2017, for example:

“…He worked on an experiment that involved injecting mouse induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells into a rat who could not produce a pancreas.”

This resulted in that rat actually growing a pancreas from the mouse cells, after which it was removed from the rat and transplanted into a mouse that had diabetes, and cured the disease.

U.S. researchers have previously successfully created hybrid human-sheep embryos, which were allowed to develop up to 28 days. Many countries either ban or restrict experiments with hybrids. Japan completely banned them, but in March of this year lifted the ban, and lifted other restrictions.

Other bizarre hybrids

Another researcher also claims to have successfully created a human-animal hybrid. Juan Carlos Izpisua and his team members from the Murcia Catholic University (UCAM, Spain), and the Salk Institute say they created a successful monkey-human hybrid in China, although again, it was not brought to term.

This team also says they’ve created hybrids of rats and mice using the CRISPR genome-editing tool to “deactivate genes in mouse embryos” that are responsible for the animals to develop eyes, a heart, and a pancreas. Then, they injected rat stem cells, resulting in successful hybrids that could develop those organs.

Internationally, a consensus has been reached to avoid ethical issues surrounding human-animal hybrid experiments. A “red line” has been set of 14 days, after which the embryos are destroyed. This is to ensure that a “human central nervous system” cannot develop.

Nakauchi said that he and his team want to follow rat-mouse hybrids for two years and if successful, will ask the government for approval to conduct similar experiments on pigs. Ethically, he said his team is able to control the cells so that they don’t implant and grow in areas of the animals they’re not supposed to – that they’ll only develop in the “targeted organ.”

Ethical concerns also have a lot to do with how research is funded. Currently, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) prohibits public funding of human-animal hybrid research, except in some limited cases. As of February of 2017, the NIH did widen the scope of research that could be funded with public funds because of the:

“…Clear interest and potential in producing animal models with human tissues or organs for studying human development, disease pathology, and eventually organ transplantation.”

The NIH however still prohibits most experiments of this type – especially those conducted on “non-human primates.” This is why teams like Nakauchi’s and Izpisua’s go to other countries to perform their research and experiments. Izpisua’s team specifically said they went to China to get around any legal issues, and that the “results are promising.”

While we may not see any real chimeras born any time soon, that the world is moving forward with this type of research at an ever-increasing rate could mean that one or two generations from now we might finally be able to keep up with the demand for organs for transplants.

Check out this video for more information about human-animal hybrid research:


Featured Image: Screenshot via YouTube Video

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