Modern Chimera (Mixed Human/Animal Creatures)

THE MIGHTY CHIMERA, a single bodied creature sprouting lion, goat and snake heads, is one of the most recognizable mythological beasts. The modern chimera is not so physically striking, being a hybrid organism with organs or tissues from multiple species. 

But it could become an important tool for medical research. Scientists have mixed-and-matched human and animal cells for years, hoping to one day grow replacement human organs or discover genetic pathways of human diseases.

Last year, though, the National Institutes of Health banned funding of animal-human chimeras until it could figure out whether any of this work would bump against ethical boundaries. Like: Could brain scientists endow research animals with human cognitive abilities, or even consciousness, while transplanting human stem cells into the brain of a developing animal embryo? Would it be morally wrong to create animals with human feet, hands, or a face in order to study human morphology? Does modern medicine think before it acts.

After a nearly year-long ban, on August 4 the NIH said it would soon lift its moratorium and again start accepting grant applications from research labs that want to develop human-animal chimeras. “We thought it was good time to take a deep breath, pause and make sure the ethical frameworks that we have in place allows us to move forward and conduct this research responsibly,” says Carrie Wolinetz, associate director for science policy at NIH.

The boundary between human and animal is not just a philosophical debate. Human subjects in medical research have greater legal protections than laboratory animals, according to Rob Streiffer, assistant professor of bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “What it takes to cross a line is a contentious issue,” says Streiffer. For example, some people believe that a lot of animal testing is wrong, because many animals can feel pain and suffering. Others argue that any organism that displays uniquely human traits, things like autonomy, moral reasoning, and controlling one’s own behavior ought to be excluded from research.

Under the new rules, a panel will review any projects that introduce human cells in early vertebrate embryos or introduce human cells in later stage mammals that could change an animal’s brain functions. The new guidelines keep existing restrictions against putting human cells into early-stage primate embryos like monkeys, and prohibit breeding animals that have human cells inside, so any pigoons would have to be sterile.

Chimera research will be made easier by new gene editing technologies like Crispr, in combination with human stem cell manipulations that let scientists form any kind of tissue. “The intersection of those two [gene-editing and stem cell technologies] allow us to create animal-human chimeras for research that are little more advanced than the past, triggering questions about animal welfare,” says Wolinetz. 

While animal-human chimeras have been around for several decades, the ability to transplant human brain tissue into developing animal embryos potentially endowing animals with more human-like consciousness drives the debate that led to the NIH’s initial ban.

NIH officials say there are fewer than a dozen US academic labs researching with animal-human chimeras. One is at Stanford University, where Sean Wu is working to understand how to repair human heart tissue. He’s pleased that his work can continue, even if there may be an extra layer of bureaucracy. Still, Wu says some ethical concerns about human behavior or functions being transplanted into animals are in the realm of science fiction. “There’s a lot of concern and speculation and no data that anyone can offer,” he says. “We think there should be a way to carefully move forward so we can know what are the limits.” 

The NIH wants to hear from the public and scientists over the next 30 days before coming up with final guidelines, and it expects to fund a new batch of human-animal chimera grants by January 2017.

One way to avoid the consciousness-raising quandary is by deleting bits of DNA that are responsible for the development of certain parts of the human brain before implanting into a lab animal. That way, you could still study the origins of Alzheimer’s or other brain diseases without worrying about creating a human-like animal. “The science is moving very fast,” says Wu. The NIH just wants to make sure its standards can keep up.

A plan to mix human stem cells with animal embryos to create chimeras, those creatures that have part animal and part human elements, soon will be getting taxpayer funding, under a new proposal from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The federal agency said that it is requesting public comment on its plans to open the door to public funding of the concept that could result in “animal models with human tissues or organs for studying human development, disease pathology, and eventually organ transplantation.”

The National Institutes of Health had announced a moratorium on the funding last year, but the change now is being proposed due to the interest in mixing human and non-human cells, and seeing the results.

National Public Radio said there have been concerns over the potential work. “One issue is that scientists might inadvertently create animals that have partly human brains, endowing them with some semblance of human consciousness or human thinking abilities. Another is that they could develop into animals with human sperm and eggs and breed, producing human embryos or fetuses inside animals or hybrid creatures,” the report said. But NPR said scientists argue they could prevent those outcomes.

Part 2

Are you ready for the brave new world of transhumanism? The utopians are working to change God’s creation, including man, and WND has exposed their plans.

WND has previously reported on such “transhuman” goals. In one case, a U.S. biotech company was given permission to recruit 20 brain-dead patients to test if parts of their central nervous systems can be regenerated.

The company, Bioquark Inc., plans to use a soup of stem cells and peptides on the brains of the patients over a six-week period to see if it can jump-start their functions. Philadelphia-based Bioquark asks on its website: “What if your body came with a restart button?”

WND also reported last winter on the growing promise of anti-aging or “gene therapy” science, a technology known as CRISPR/Cas9. It purports to deliver immortality to human beings and has attracted support from some of the world’s richest men, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, Ray Kurzwell of Google, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, venture capitalist Paul Glenn and Russian multi-millionaire Omitry Itskov.

Beside injecting the brain with stem cells and peptides, scientists at Bioquark say they will use lasers and nerve stimulation therapies that have been shown to bring people out of comas.

Christian author and filmmaker Tom Horn has warned scientists are redefining what it means to be human, with the goal of “transcending” humanity. “Right here in North Carolina at your university, they have what is called a transgenic lab, which means they have mice that have human genetic material, for testing to see if the human parts in that animal are responding,” he told TV host Sid Roth in an interview at the time. Using the CRISPR gene-editing technique, one university lab cured cancer in a group of rats, but the rats started aging quickly and died at half-life, “and nobody knows why that happened,” Horn said. “There is a danger in playing God because you’re not God and you don’t know.”Horn has been researching and writing about transhumanism for years, resulting in his documentary, “Inhuman,” recently won a Silver Telly Award.

He says there are ethical issues. “These are the questions philosophers and theologians have debated since the dawn of time, but in the Bible only mankind is described as having God’s breath breathed into them at the moment of their creation,” Horn said. “For conservative Christians, this should be a major point of debate regarding the ‘ethics’ of bringing people back from the dead.” Could a person be returned alive, and, “What would they then be?” Horn asks. “Are they a living construct no longer suitable as a fit extension of the Holy Spirit? Or would they be fine and the miraculous science that brought them back to life celebrated by all believers? These were the type of difficult questions we sought to answer in the documentary ‘Inhuman.'”

Carl Gallups, a Christian pastor, radio host and author of several books, including “Be Thou Prepared” and “Final Warning,” said there are moral and ethical dilemmas. “What entity or governmental power will make the decisions concerning who gets their death ‘reversed’ and who must die?” Gallups asked at the time.

The National Institutes of Health said the basics of the experimentation have been around for a long time. “It is common practice to evaluate the potency of pluripotent human cells – which can become any tissue in the body – through introducing them into rodents,” the agency said. Now, the agency said, “an increasing number of researchers are interested in growing human tissues and organs in animals by introducing pluripotent human cells into early animal embryos. Formation of these types of human-animal organism, referred to as ‘chimeras,’ holds tremendous potential for disease modeling, drug testing, and perhaps eventual organ transplant.”

It warned, however, of ethical concerns over the “uncertainty about the effects of human cells on off-target organs and tissues in the chimeric animals, particularly in the nervous system.” It’s request for comment notes that there will be strict guidelines for how such procedures are used.

For example, the present ban on introducing human embryonic cells into non-human primate blastocyst-stage embryos is being expanded to include restrictions on “early stage (pre-blastocyst) of non-human primate embryos.”

The comments started coming in right away, including one from Theresa Pham, who identifies herself as a physician “in the field of research.” “I feel strongly that this use of chimera crosses an ethical line,” she wrote. “Advancing our knowledge in some areas of science can’t and should not be approached with … presumptuous naivete. Some adverse consequences are much more profound than others. “If the predictions are wrong and the safeguards are not enough, then the price will be the cost of our humanity as well as these new lifeforms that did not ask to participate in this frightening enterprise.”

NIH officials didn’t have those concerns. “I am confident that these proposed changes will enable the NIH research community to move this promising area of science forward in a responsible manner,” said Carrie Wolinetz, the NIH’s associate director for science policy.

But LifeNews commented, “The Obama administration today announced it has flung the door wide open to scientists making grisly human-animal hybrids. After overturning the Bush administration limits on forcing taxpayers to fund embryonic stem cell research, this is the latest move by President Barack Obama to manipulate and destroy human life in unethical experiments.

The federal government announced plans to lift a moratorium on funding of certain controversial experiments that use human stem cells to create animal embryos that are partly human.

The National Institutes of Health is proposing a new policy to permit scientists to get federal money to make embryos, known as chimeras, under certain carefully monitored conditions. The NIH imposed a moratorium on funding these experiments in September because they could raise ethical concerns.

One issue is that scientists might inadvertently create animals that have partly human brains, endowing them with some semblance of human consciousness or human thinking abilities. Another is that they could develop into animals with human sperm and eggs and breed, producing human embryos or fetuses inside animals or hybrid creatures.

But scientists have argued that they could take steps to prevent those outcomes and that the embryos provide invaluable tools for medical research. For example, scientists hope to use the embryos to create animal models of human diseases, which could lead to new ways to prevent and treat illnesses. 

Researchers also hope to produce sheep, pigs and cows with human hearts, kidneys, livers, pancreases and possibly other organs that could be used for transplants.

To address the ethical concerns, the NIH's new policy imposes several restrictions. The policy proposes prohibiting the introduction of certain types of human cells into embryos of non-human primates, such as monkeys and chimps, at even earlier stages of development than what was currently prohibited. The extra protections are being added because these animals are so closely related to humans. But the policy would lift the moratorium on funding experiments involving other species. Because of the ethical concerns, though, at least some of the experiments would go through an extra layer of review by a new, special committee of government officials.

That committee would, for example, consider experiments designed to create animals with human brain cells or human brain tissue. Scientists might want to create them to study neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. But the experiments would undergo intensive scrutiny if there's any chance there might be a "substantial contribution" or "substantial functional modification" to an animal's brain.

In addition, the NIH would even consider experiments that could create animals with human sperm and human eggs since they may be useful for studying human development and infertility. But in that case steps would have to be taken to prevent the animals from breeding. "I am confident that these proposed changes will enable the NIH research community to move this promising area of science forward in a responsible manner," Carrie Wolinetz, the NIH's associate director for science policy, wrote in a blog post. "At the end of the day, we want to make sure this research progresses because its very important to our understanding of disease. It's important to our mission to improve human health," she said in an interview with NPR. "But we also want to make sure there's an extra set of eyes on these projects because they do have this ethical set of concerns associated with them."

Several scientists said they are thrilled by the new policy. "It's very, very welcome news that NIH will consider funding this type of research," says Pablo Ross, a developmental biologist at the University of California, Davis, trying to grow human organs in farm animals. "We need funding to be able to answer some very important questions."

But critics denounced the decision. "Science fiction writers might have imagined worlds like this, like The Island of Dr. Moreau, Brave New World, Frankenstein," says Stuart Newman, a biologist at New York Medical College. "There have been speculations. But now they're becoming more real. And I think that we just can't say that since it's possible then let's do it."

The public has 30 days to comment on the proposed new policy. NIH could start funding projects as early as the start of 2017.

Part 3

Since September 2015, researchers have been banned from receiving funding from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) for adding human stem cells to animal embryos, creating blends called chimaeras. But a proposal by the NIH released on 4 August would lift the funding moratorium, except for certain situations. It would also set up a panel to review the ethics and oversight of grant applications.

The new rules shorten the developmental window during which human cells can be introduced into non-human primate embryos, disallowing it before the stage of development in which the central nervous system begins to form. This is intended to limit the number of human cells that would make up the chimaera’s brain.

They also prohibit breeding animals that contain human cells, so as to prevent a human-like embryo from growing in a non-human womb or the birth of an animal that is more humanized than its parents.

Any grant applications that fall into a grey area would undergo a panel review. “It would be an extra set of eyes to make sure we’re not triggering any animal-welfare issues,” says Carrie Wolinetz, associate director for science policy at the NIH in Washington DC. The panel will pay particular attention to applications involving primates, mammals at very early stages of development or those in which human cells could affect an animal's brain. Past a certain point of development, rodent embryos with human cells that could affect brain development are exempt from panel review, says Wolinetz. This is because NIH’s scientific advisers think that the rodent brain is substantially different from ours and would not become human-like.

Chimaera's are a growing area of research. Currently, researchers use them to study early embryonic development and to create animal models of human diseases. But one major goal is to engineer animals to grow human organs. The organs could later be harvested from the adult animal and used for transplantation into a patient.

Unlike in the United States, it is illegal to perform such research without approval in the United Kingdom, even with private funding. Laws introduced in the United Kingdom in January mandate extra reviews of proposals involving certain types of chimeras, including ones that would have a human appearance or features such as faces or hands.

Reactions from researchers have been mixed. Steven Goldman, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester in New York, says that the 2015 moratorium was overkill and is relieved that it will now be lifted. The new guidelines, he says, are “more intelligent from the standpoint of where the science is”.

But Ali Brivanlou, a developmental biologist at the Rockefeller University in New York City says that the NIH proposal focuses on the wrong aspects of the issue. Rather than restricting the timing of modification, he says, there should be more focus on limiting the percentage of the animal that ends up being human. “On a positive note, it’s amazing that this is going on,” he says, because there are many related questions and ethical issues that should be debated publicly.

Françoise Baylis, a bioethicist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, thinks that the new rules leave many questions unanswered. Currently, there are only two types of research subject, human and non-human, and there are clear distinctions on how to treat them. With chimeras, researchers risk creating a third category for which there are no research guidelines, she says. “We just tend to say we’ll treat them like non-human animals, as if nothing happened,” Baylis says.

The NIH rules and other countries’ laws focus on cognition as the important factor for limiting chimaera research. But that is not necessarily the best way to determine how humanized animals should be categorized because it can be subjective, Baylis says. For instance, people who are cognitively impaired are still treated as human subjects in research, whereas very intelligent primates are not.

These are the kinds of questions that the oversight panel will discuss when reviewing specific grant applications, says Wolinetz. The panel will give recommendations to the scientific grant reviewers, which could include suggestions such as not allowing certain types of chimaera's to be brought to term, or monitoring an adult chimaera’s behaviour before continuing the experiment. “There are no hard and fast lines,” she says. “There’s going to be some on-the-job learning.”

The NIH’s rule is now open for public comment for 30 days, after which the agency will issue a final rule and lift the moratorium. Wolinetz hopes that this will be ready in time for the grant cycle that begins in January 2017.

Technology to enhance human life or out of control? What do you think?