Scientists create world’s first monkey-pig hybrids to harvest human organs

(File photo STR/AFP via Getty Images)

When it comes to prolonging human life, are we willing to go so far as to create a new species for the sole purpose of harvesting organs?

Apparently so.

The world’s first monkey-pig hybrids were created in a Beijing, China, lab as part of ground-breaking bid to grow human organs inside animals for transplants, the Daily Mail reported.

Two chimera piglets contained DNA from both pigs and cynomolgus monkeys were born, though both died within a week. More than 4000 embryos were implanted in sows. Ten piglets were born as a result, to include the two pig-primate chimeras — the other eight piglets also died.

“This is the first report of full-term monkey-pig chimeras,” Tang Hai at the State Key Laboratory of Stem Cell and Reproductive Biology in Beijing told New Scientist.

In the chimeric piglets, the heart, liver, spleen, lung and skin tissues partly consisted of monkey cells, but the proportion was only between one in 1000 and one in 10,000, the weekly science magazine reported.

More from New Scientist:

It is unclear why the piglets died, says Hai, but because the non-chimeric pigs died as well, the team suspects it is to do with the IVF process rather than the chimerism. IVF doesn’t work nearly as well in pigs as it does in humans and some other animals.

The team is now trying to create healthy animals with a higher proportion of monkey cells, says Hai. If that is successful, the next step would be to try to create pigs in which one organ is composed almost entirely of primate cells.

Something like this has already been achieved in rodents. In 2010, Hiromitsu Nakauchi, now at Stanford University in California, created mice with rat pancreases by genetically modifying the mice so their own cells couldn’t develop into a pancreas.

 

There have been ethical concerns raised by some members of the scientific community, the Daily Mail noted.

Neuroscientist Douglas Munoz at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, was cited, saying research projects of this nature “just really ethically scares me.”

“For us to start to manipulate life functions in this kind of way without fully knowing how to turn it off, or stop it if something goes awry really scares me,” Munoz said.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute in London, told The Guardian earlier this year there may be ethical concerns if the chimeras were allowed to develop to the point where there’s a nervous system.

“How do you restrict the contribution of the human cells just to the organ that you want to make?” he said. “If you allow these animals to go all the way through and be born, if you have a big contribution to the central nervous system from the human cells, then that obviously becomes a concern.”

On the other hand, Yale University stem cell expert Alejandro De Los Angeles was held up as one who believes the research can be done in an ethical manner.

De Los Angeles wrote that the search for a better animal model to simulate human disease has been a “holy grail” of biomedical research for decades, according to the Daily Mail.

“Realizing the promise of human-monkey chimera research in an ethically and scientifically appropriate manner will require a coordinated approach,” he said.

Former conservative radio host Neal Boortz disputed that this was a first, citing Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., in a tweet.

Here’s a quick sampling of more serious responses from Twitter:

Tom Tillison

Senior Staff Writer
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The longest-tenured writer at BizPac Review, Tom grew up in Maryland before moving to Central Florida as a young teen. It is in the Sunshine State that he honed both his passion for politics and his writing skills.
Tom Tillison

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