By Christine Rousselle
Catholic scientists and ethicists have warned of the potential for a slippery slope in response to reports that scientists had successfully created a “chimeric embryo” that was part macaque monkey and part human.
An article published April 15 in the journal “Cell” described how scientists took a blastocyst from a macaque and added human cells. The blastocyst then developed into a chimeric embryo, meaning it has parts of two species. It is the goal that these beings could be used to grow human organs, which would then be used in transplantation.
Similar experiments have occurred using other animals; this was the first time a monkey-human chimera had been created.
“When it comes to the ethics of mixing cellular materials between humans and animals to produce ‘chimeric animals,’ the details of what researchers are doing will be of the essence,” Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.
An ethical example of this research, he said, would be to “implant human stem cells into embryonic monkeys in order to grow human hearts, kidneys, and other organs inside the monkey animal, primarily to alleviate serious donor shortages for organ transplants.”
This would be ethical “as long as certain limits and boundaries are respected.”
The reverse, however–adding monkey stem cells to a human–would “raise grave ethical objections,” he said.
Fr. Pacholczyk told CNA that among the boundaries needed for ethical experimentation of this type were a “goal to induce one species, the monkey, to grow an organ or tissue of the other,” instead of a goal of a creation of a “new” species.
“The procedures must not involve the replication of major pillars of human identity or human cognition in the monkey, such as through the human brain system,” he said, adding that the monkey should not be able to produce human gametes either.