Rules sought on animal-human embryos

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TOKYO: Japanese experts were on Tuesday set to discuss rules for experiments with animal-human embryos, as scientists seek permission for tests that could see human organs produced inside the growing body of an animal.

Researchers want to introduce a human stem cell into an animal embryo, to create a so-called chimeric embryo, which they can implant into an animal’s womb.

The hope is that this stem cell will grow into a fullyfunctioning human organ—a kidney or a liver, for example—as the animal matures.

This would mean when the creature is fully grown, the organ could be harvested from the animal and used for transplanting into a person in need.


“Experts will study what possibilities this kind of research will generate,” especially with regard to ethics and human dignity, a government official told Agence France-Presse.

The panel of government-appointed scientists, law professors and journalists will meet later Tuesday.

Its recommendation will be sent next month to a government committee which is expected to begin drafting guidelines shaping the boundaries of Japan’s cutting-edge embryonic research.

Unlike in the United States, there is little public opposition to the research, with domestic media coverage overwhelmingly positive, reflecting relatively high levels of scientific literacy among the population at large.

Japan currently allows scientists to grow chimeric embryos for up to two weeks in test-tubes, but prohibits them from putting those embryos into an animal’s womb, the official said.

In the proposed experiment, researchers, led by Hiromitsu Nakauchi of Tokyo University, want to implant a chimeric embryo made from a fertilized pig egg and a human “induced Pluripotent Stem cell” (iPS) into a pig’s womb, he said.

Stem cells are infant cells that can develop into any part of the body.

Until the discovery of iPS cells several years ago, the only way to obtain stem cells was to harvest them from human embryos.

AFP

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