Staying Ahead of the Curve on Chimeras

One of the truisms of science policy is that developments are often reactive, in response to external events or breakthrough leaps forward in science and technology.  Thoughtful, deliberative policymaking on emerging fields of science and biotechnologies is challenging, particularly since unpredictability is inherent in the very nature of scientific discover.  Simply put, the wheels of science often turn faster than the wheels of policy.

Today, NIH published a notice in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts announcing the agency would “not fund research in which human pluripotent cells are introduced into non-human vertebrate animal pre-gastrulation stage embryos” while we consider a possible policy revision in this area.   As described in the Guide notice, this is an exciting area of science that is rapidly progressing, but in which ethical and animal welfare considerations might merit additional guidance to move forward.  This is a unique opportunity to take a deep breath, look at the state of the science, and think about current policies and consider whether any additional policies are needed to promote the responsible conduct of this promising science.

Of course, thinking about the ethical considerations related to the formation of these types of animal-human chimeras is not new.   In 2005, the National Academies Guidelines for Research on Human Embryonic Stem Cells urged caution for experiments in which human embryonic stem cells were introduced into non-human embryos, suggesting both restrictions and additional consideration might be necessary.  NIH adopted several of those provisions in the 2009 NIH Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research. While the Academies report pre-dated the discovery of the ability to create induced pluripotent stem cells, the ethical considerations raised remain resonant.   Advances in cellular technologies and gene editing present opportunities to address interesting scientific questions and propel progress in regenerative medicine.  They also illustrate that the time is ripe to proactively consider whether additional ethical considerations should be put into place to guide the science moving forward.

Moving forward, NIH will bring together experts in the field to discuss the state of the science: what are the aims of research involving early stage chimeras and what are the advances on the horizon?  This discussion will help serve as a foundation to consider policy needs going forward.  In other words, thoughtful, deliberative policymaking at its best.

Comments (12):

    The mere thought of NIH pursing the introduction of human embryronic stem cells into animals is immoral and a waste of tax payer money. Are we trying to create a Frankenstein in animal form???
    Doesn,t science have better ways to spend money??? Have you found a cure for any type of cancer??
    Wake and join the human race and quit trying to be4 GOD.


    I have been, though retired, can still be a scientist. There is a limit to what science can and should create, whether you believe in God or some other power…or NO power! There is much to be done in the normal realms of science without consuming tax payers money just because it’s there. I am totally opposed to this or any other “supposed learning” that attempts to create or modify beings. Additionally, the tax payers dollars do not automatically become government dollars or NIH dollars for such immoral “science”. Stick to the areas where today’s problems are solved…don’t create othe avenues that can be held up as reasons for more un-ethical creations!


    I strongly object to the introduction of human stem cells into animals for research purposes on moral and ethical grounds. In this case, I do not believe that any potential benefit is worth the risk. Will the resulting organisms be treated as human or as animal? The moral consequences are enormous.

    This is a grossly unethical form of research. Not only will humans be killed at the embryonic stage to harvest their cells, but it involves producing animals that could have partly or wholly human brains or human sperm or eggs. Please do not go forward with this immoral act, especially using our tax dollars to do this. I pray God’s mercy on you and that you find how much He loves each and every person created, which of course includes you. Praying for you. God bless


    I STRONGLY OBJECT to the use of any taxpayer dollars for this grossly unethical research.

    First, it relies on the killing of humans at the embryonic stage to harvest their stem cells.
    Second, it involves the production of animals that could have partly or wholly human brains and all that’s associated with this higher, uniquely complex capacity.
    Third, it involves the production of animals that could have human sperm or eggs and downstream issues associated with even the tiniest chance of breeding.
    Finally, if the percentage of human versus animal contributions to the final ‘chimera’ are uncertain to any degree, then researchers cannot know for certain whether the resulting being has attained HUMAN status.

    Who is then WISE enough to determine not only the researchers’, but also our society’s, moral obligation toward this plethora of new beings????

    We are ignorant about so much of human biology and animal biology. Only humans would think of doing research that combines our ignorance to see what we can come up with. And we’re afraid of bio-terrorism from other countries…..

    I STRONGLY OBJECT to the use of any taxpayer dollars for this grossly unethical research. First, it relies on the killing of humans at the embryonic stage to harvest their stem cells. There are many other areas that NIH can pursue. I am not in the medical or scientific community, but this one does not make any sense at all. It is time to stop wasting our tax dollars on this type of activity.

    I am strongly opposed to the use of taxpayer dollars to fund human-animal embryonic research. Only one person can create humans and animals, and that person is GOD. I am against killing humans at the embryonic stage to harvest their stem calls no matter what the cause, and this cause is way over the top.

    Please do not proceed down this road. It is dangerous and unethical. I see the chance that if researchers become uncertain whether a resulting being has human status or human characteristics, it produces a huge moral dilemma. One that I am uncomfortable with and others (who may not even be aware this is occurring) will be uncomfortable with. I believe in experimentation, as in many cases it has provided us with advanced scientific knowledge and innovations and improved health. However, in this case the harm outweighs the benefits. It is too much like playing God (and or “Dr. Frankenstein”. I do not not want our tax dollars going towards this. Respectfully, Marion S. Weston

    The creation of chimeras is done with induced pluripotent cells, meaning that NO EMBRYOS ARE HARMED IN THE PROCESS. Those cells are taken from adults and modified to act as a stem cell, but they are not taken from embryos.

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