Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology recently approved a University of Tokyo request to “create human pancreases in rodents by using human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.”
In short, the researchers will create “animal-human embryos” to study possible growth of human organs in animals.
“Finally, we are in a position to start serious studies in this field after 10 years of preparation,” Hiromitsu Nakauchi, professor at the Institute of Medical Science of the University of Tokyo, told Asahi Shimbun in a July 25 story.
“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.”
This development might come as a shock for some. It was only really a matter of time, though, since Japan relaxed its rules on iPS research last March.
(Also, we did say that a human-animal chimera possibility was just around the corner.)
Previous researches in Japan were required to terminate human cells-implanted animal embryos in 14 days. The recent approval would be the first case after the rule change.
However, there is a huge ethical concern about chimera embryo experiments, as reported by Nature and Asahi. Specifically, said concerns revolve around “blurring” the human-animal divide.
But before you start thinking of Full Metal Alchemist-level chimeras (not that we’re looking forward to more Nina Tuckers), Nakauchi scoffed at the idea that an ambiguous, part-human creature could be born as a result of these tests.
“The number of human cells grown in the bodies of sheep is extremely small, like one in thousands or one in tens of thousands,” clarified Nakauchi.
“At that level, an animal with a human face will never be born.”
Nakauchi plans to take things slow, reported Nature. After experiments with rats, the next step, he said, would be experiments with hybrid embryos in pigs.
As long as we don’t wake up to a real-life The Island of Doctor Moreau-type scenario someday, we’re good. –MF
Cover photo: Science Pictures ltd/SPL