Are Human-Animal Hybrids Scientists Make Human, Beast, Or Between?

With the news cycle understandably focused on the early Trump administration, an important non-Trump story did not received the attention it deserves. Recently, researchers created a human-pig hybrid. This creature is called a “chimera”—a name, as Merriam Webster says, taken from a monster in Greek mythology that was part lion, goat, and serpent. The research was published in the journal Cell, and reported in National Geographic and ScienceDaily.

To create this chimera, the researchers fertilized a pig embryo then inserted human stem cells. The human cells were pluripotent stem cells, meaning they can develop into cells of any type. For example, given the right conditions, a pluripotent stem cell could develop into a neuron, a heart-muscle cell, or a skin cell.

So, the human stem cells combined with the pig cells, creating a single human-pig creature, albeit with many more pig cells than human cells. The researchers allowed the chimeras they created to gestate in a pig for three to four weeks before terminating them for further study.

The researchers’ some-day goal for this line of research is to end the need for organ donation. Say a patient suffers from kidney failure. If the chimera research sufficiently progressed, then a doctor could simply harvest cells from that patient and combine them with a pig embryo to make a sort of personal chimera.

The chimera would then gestate, be born, and grow into adulthood, hopefully at the accelerated pace of pigs. If the research met our hopes, the now-adult chimera would have fully human organs of the same genetic makeup as our patient. The chimera’s kidneys would then be harvested and transplanted to our patient, who could then expect a full recovery.

The immediate benefits over organ donation are obvious: no wait (and thus no patients dying on organ-donation waiting lists), much lower coordination costs (because the chimera’s organs could be harvested at a predictable time and place), and no chance of organ rejection by the patient’s body (since the organs would be genetically matched to the patient).

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