Japan approves human-animal embryo experiments
The ultimate goal is to grow organs inside animals that could be transplanted into humans.
- The experiments will involve inserting human stem cells into rat and mouse embryos.
- Some bioethicists are concerned about the potential harm this could inflict upon animals.
- Organ shortages are a problem all over the world. In the U.S., as many as 20 people die every day while waiting for a transplant.
The Japanese government plans to let a stem cell researcher conduct human-animal embryo experiments, with the ultimate goal of someday creating organs to be transplanted into humans.
Stem cell biologist Hiromitsu Nakauchi plans to grow a small amount of human cells inside rat and mouse embryos — both of which will be altered so the animals can't produce a pancreas — for about 15 days. Then, the researchers will bring the embryos to term in surrogate animals. The cells that come from humans are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), which are derived from skin or blood cells and reprogrammed to revert to an embryonic-like state.
The animals would, if successful, use these stem cells to produce a pancreas.
"We are trying to do targeted organ generation, so the cells go only to the pancreas," Nakauchi told Nature.
In March, Japan overturned a ban on growing human cells inside animal embryos for more than 14 days.
"Finally, we are in a position to start serious studies in this field after 10 years of preparation," Nakauchi told The Asahi Shimbun. "We don't expect to create human organs immediately, but this allows us to advance our research based upon the know-how we have gained up to this point."
But some bioethicists are concerned that introducing human cells into other species' embryos could cause problems.
"It is problematic, both ethically and from a safety aspect, to place human iPS cells, which are still capable of transforming into all types of cells, into the fertilized eggs of rats and mice," Jiro Nudeshima, a researcher who specializes in the ethical implications of life science research, told The Asahi Shimbun.
An "Uncomfortable and Unstable" Situation for Stem Cell Research
But Nakauchi downplayed these concerns.
"The number of human cells grown in the bodies of sheep is extremely small, like one in thousands or one in tens of thousands," he told The Asahi Shimbun. "At that level, an animal with a human face will never be born."
Still, the researchers plan to terminate any experiment if they ever detect that more than 30 percent of the rodent brains are human, per the government's guidelines. The current experiments are designed to test the limits of growing human cells inside animal embryos. Nakauchi hopes to eventually conduct similar experiments involving pigs, but that will require additional government approval, too.
Increasing the amount of donatable organs could save thousands of lives around the world. In the U.S., for example, approximately 113,000 people were on waiting lists for organ donations in January 2019, and as many as 20 people die each day while waiting for a transplant.
Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.
- Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
- Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
- "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
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- The state can lead to important advancements in quantum computing.
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- For a lot of us, one of the ways to give meaning to terrible moments is to see what you can learn from them.
- Sometimes certain information can "flood" us in ways that aren't helpful, and it's important to figure out what types of data you are able to take in — process — at certain times.