Ask the Pharmacist: Part monkey, part human embryo created
An experiment has taken place where researchers just created an embryo that is half human and half monkey. They allowed the living thing to grow for 20 days, and then it was destroyed.
This experiment has sparked huge debate into the ethical reasons for such an experiment and if they should be allowed to continue. And if so, where exactly should the research end?
The lead researcher, Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte has experience in the field of biomedical research and in 2017, helped create the first human-pig animal which lived for a month.
Professor Belmonte teamed up with researchers in China more recently, and injected human cells into monkey embryos, instead of sheep because the latter does not work well. But a monkey’s genomic sequence is closer to that of humans, and in the end, the experiment worked. A monkey-human hybrid was made and lived for 20 days and was then destroyed.
Will future embryos remain in the petri dish, or will an unethical scientist secretly breed it and attempt to propagate a new kind of creature. There are so many obvious bio-ethical concerns with this.
Dr. Belmonte’s team proposes that a major problem in medicine can possibly be solved, and he’s referring to organ transplantation. Every two or three weeks someone dies because they did not get the organ they so desperately needed. With this type of stem cell research, the ability to grow a kidney or a liver for example, would solve the shortage we have, and save many lives each year.
And then there’s the issue of disease transmission. In case you didn’t realize there is mad cow disease, Bartonella infection (from a cat’s scratch), and most recently, bats transmitting coronavirus.
Monkeys famously carry herpes B virus, monkeypox and rabies. When genetic material from a monkey is sourced for this purpose it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to be 100 percent assured that it does not contain anything dangerous to a human.
Other scientists are raising concerns about where it stops. The argument being that in time as “chimeric” technology improves, could a scientist after hours go ahead an implant an embryo into a monkey, and ethically would happen to that baby? It may conjure up ideas in some people’s minds about more Frankenstein-ish experiments as well as part animal, part human offspring.
Human chimeras already exist, in fact there is research to show that people who have received bone marrow transplants, or women who have had a pregnancy all have chimeric cells in them. What we’re talking about today is different, it is a scientific experimental chimera that is neither animal, nor human.
The world is not united on the new research. Some people see it as a positive … a new opportunity to create organs for transplantations that could save human lives every day, while other people see this as a negative. They perceive it as opening Pandora’s box to a 21st century “Planet of the Apes" and question where the researchers would stop if they are given an inch. How many lives would be saved exactly? If you have an opinion about this email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit SuzyCohen.com.