Last September 2015, the National Institute of Health (NIH) imposed a moratorium suspending the funding of human-animal chimera research as it felt the need to evaluate the ethical and moral issues that come with the said project. NPR states that researchers "...hope to produce sheep, pigs and cows with human hearts, kidneys, livers, pancreases and possibly other organs that could be used for transplants." The NIH was concerned that human cells, when combined with animal embryos, could develop into brain cells, sperm, or egg cells in the chimeric offspring.

Scientists have argued, though, that such outcomes could be prevented. They are more concerned that such a suspension from the NIH will hinder highly promising research in the field of biomedicine. Some researchers have voiced their insights in the journal Science to call on the NIH to lift the restrictions on chimera research.

An embryonic stem cell. Credit: Anne-Christine Poujoulat

NIH Reconsideration

Since the issuance of the moratorium, the NIH has reviewed the matter and even held a workshop last November to discuss the issues of chimera research and animal welfare. Now, the NIH officials have published a new policy with regard to the conduct of human stem cell research and outlined several restrictions to address the ethical concerns. 

In the interview with NPR, Carrie Wolinetz, the NIH’s associate director for science policy said, “at the end of the day, we want to make sure this research progresses because it’s very important to our understanding of disease. It’s important to our mission to improve human health. But we also want to make sure there’s an extra set of eyes on these projects because they do have this ethical set of concerns associated with them."

The NIH requests the public to comment on the proposed changes to the NIH guidelines regarding the research project.

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