NIH suspends funding of human chimera research pending policy review

mouse-rat chimera
NAKAUCHI ET AL./THE UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO. From left to right: a mouse, mouse-rat, rat-mouse, and rat
mouse-rat chimera
NAKAUCHI ET AL./THE UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO/Stanford. From left to right: a mouse, mouse-rat, rat-mouse, and rat

Chimeras are one of the more controversial and fascinating areas of human stem cell and early embryo research. The notion of a chimera traces back thousands of years to creatures that were mixtures of various animals including humans in some cases.

What about a real human chimera embryo?

Today, chimera research has the potential to make major advances in our knowledge and even biomedical treatments such as through human organ creation within animal chimeras. However, human chimera research is intensely divisive amongst society more generally.

A few weeks ago the NIH announced that it will no longer be funding research on chimeras, pending an ethics and policy review (a big HT to Gretchen Vogel at Science; I recommend that you also read her piece on this as well.)

This development at the NIH means the suspension of federal funding for specific chimera projects involving human stem or germ cells. Other work such as that supported by CIRM continues in this area. Chimeras do not have to involve human cells and much interesting research has been done in this narrowed area including mouse-rat chimeras (see image above from Dr. Hiromitsu Nakauchi).

It will be important to carefully watch what NIH decides on human stem cell chimeras, as this will have a great influence on the extent to which this research moves forward even if in principle some studies such as those of Dr. Nakauchi can continue with non-federal funding sources.

Is human chimera research ethical? What if it could lead to major advances in biomedicine such as generating new organs including livers that are now in short supply for donors? Does that change the equation and dow do we balance the risks and potential benefits?

Note to readers: please participate in a scientific survey of blog readers and in the process get the bonus of a chance to win cool stuff!

5 Comments


  1. I think a lot of this has to do with the public’s perception of what a chimera is rather than the actual thing that is produced in lab. Hopefully this will yield an okay for this research.


  2. Interesting question as to the criteria by which human cells placed in an animal for development become more valuable to science research and translational medicine than the concerns of bioethics & the moral grey areas that arise when science combines species.

    From a perspective of patient outcomes if it advances knowledge and produces tangible results in a benefit driven plan under strict ethically controlled guidelines I can’t fault the effort.

    Not allowing certain experiments & development concepts without strictly controlled studies using early stage human cells may be the line for the moment – i.e. regulation beyond a pre-defined pathway objective with limits may be required for now. More liberal freedoms perhaps on non-human cell/gene experiments or ex-vivo using human material to limit the possibilities seems logical. However animal welfare should weigh in on the extent to which this line of investigation needs updated guidelines.

    Productizing mutant animals for commercial profit outside of a controlled scientific arena seems exploitative and cruel at this stage of the tech. Cloning pets & pro breeding programs et al should fit within an overall structured framework.

    Having the benefit of a biological home for development using a host to study or grow tissue is potentially valuable and may be important for human translation and use. I don’t see the sense in a Federal $ ban on research in the area. I’d rather see a considered delimiting approach to what is & isn’t currently acceptable and place a requirement on per project review for approvals with reviews as the field develops.

    Having said that there may very well be specific technical reasons to have more latitude or on the other hand alternatives that don’t require chimeras. The question naturally arises what can be done without pursuing human animal chimera research to further the same ends…

    Cheers


  3. For the non-scientists (like myself) out here, Paul, could you explain what exactly chimera research is?


  4. Interesting question as to the criteria by which human cells placed in an animal for development become more valuable to science research and translational medicine than the concerns of bioethics & the moral grey areas that arise when science combines species.

    There is no higher “morality” that would prevent this research. Morality is what MAN says it is. So what may not be moral today tomorrow in may be. Besides if the resultant outcomes are more human than not and the researchers want to cover up what they have done they would just perform a post birth abortion and sent the medical wast to be disposed.

Comments are closed.