Do we really want to mix animal embryos with human cells? | Belicons

Do we really want to mix animal embryos with human cells?

Posted on: 
Thursday 2 February 2017

Email this page

This email address will not be used for any other purpose than sending this one email successfully.
Do we really want to mix animal embryos with human cells?

This is about something very small: an embryo with some human cells. Still, I was shocked about these news reports. I do think that it is very important to already worry about this instead of only when the first pigs are born that have human organs and maybe more human features.

According to Insoo Hyun, associate professor bioethics and philosophy at Case Western Reserve University, we don’t have to worry, for, according to him, as long as the brain is avoided, there is no problem.

But that idea doesn't make me feel any better yet. So, let’s take a better look at this research.

Mixing human and animal

Scientists have already been experimenting for years to become able to make cells of one animal grow into another. They hope that this will enable them to do more research on diseases and to grow donor organs. These are great aims. When I think about all the people on the transplant waiting list, then I understand very well that many people welcome these developments. Each year many people die because they didn’t find a donor in time.

Already in 1995 scientists managed to have a human ear grow on the back of a mouse.  Last week it first became known first that scientists in the United States managed to have a pancreas of a mouse grow in a rat and to use the cells of that rat to cure mice of their diabetics. This is already a breakthrough for scientists, but genetically mice and rats are closer than humans and pigs.

Not long after this it because known that scientists have also managed to have human stem cells grow in the embryo of a pig. So that is an even bigger breakthrough. They injected stem cells in the embryo of a pig and waited 28 days to see what happened. The cells turned out to go to different parts of the embryo where organs are being developed. Except of the brain, hardly to none of the stem cells went there. And precisely because of this, this is no problem according to these scientists, for, as professor Hyun said, as long as the brain is untouched, it will be okay.

There are more scientists who don’t worry about this. They say that even when it does go wrong, they can easily intervene. So there is no problem.

Not all governments and scientists are happy with this kind of research. For that reason, the money for this research came from Spanish investors, not from the American tax payer. Moreover, the Japanese geneticist Hiromitsu Nakauchi wasn’t allowed to do these experiments in his own country. This all shows that it may not be as innocent.

Peiling: Embryo's van mens en dier zouden strikt gescheiden moeten blijven

Peiling: Embryo's van mens en dier zouden strikt gescheiden moeten blijven

Lees de blog bij deze peiling

Poll: Embryos of humans and animals should not be mixed

Poll: Embryos of humans and animals should not be mixed

Read the blog that goes with this poll

Body 2: 

And indeed, this research can be questioned for several reasons:

  1. We don’t know what consciousness is yet

    Hyun assumes that consciousness is something in the brain. But we don’t know yet what consciousness actually is. So, what if an animal can also grow a human-like consciousness without stem cells having reached the brain? Hyun cannot be sure that this is impossible and if he is wrong...

    In the last few years many researches have shown that the consciousness of many animals look a lot more on that of humans than people have been thinking for years. They don’t only do what they do based on instincts, they have personalities.

    Elephants even turn out to be able to recognize themselves in a mirror. And even pigs can recognize themselves in a mirror, even when they need a few hours to do so.

    So we don’t know enough yet about consciousness to be sure that they can control the development of human stem cells in embryos of pigs.

  2. What if scientists around the world start growing organs in this way?

    At the moment we are talking about research of a few scientists. They claim to be able to control the development of the embryos and to intervene when it goes wrong anyway.

    This sounds okay, but what if they in the end really succeed in growing human organs in animals and that this will be used for donor transplantation? Then more institutions will start to use this technology and that means that in much more places in the world such embryos will be growing. And then one can wonder whether all these scientists will be able to control the development of these embryos.

  3. What will these organs from pigs do in humans?

    We are talking about organs that have been growing from human stem cells, but that doesn’t mean that the organs are fully human. He organ develops in an animal from a very early stage of life. So it will be partly an animal and partly a human organ. And it is important to realize that this is a biological process. It is different from things made in a factory that are all exactly the same.

    So for each organ we need to see to what extent the organ is animal-like and to what extent it is human-like. What will this mean for a human body? Maybe the body will accept it at first, but the real problems occur only after 10 years or so. For example that it causes problems in other organs or that certain animal diseases are suddenly transmitted to humans. HIV used to be a disease that only occurred among animals. In that way, these organs will bring us bigger problems than the lack of donor organs is now.

  4. This isn’t the only way to solve the lack of donor organs

    When you read about these kinds of experiments, it is important to realize that this technology is still at an early stage of its development. So we cannot expect the first donor organs that have grown in this way in about 10 years. So a lot of money is going to research that won’t bring us much in the next few decades, of which we don’t know whether it will ever bring us something and that may bring us major problems. I think that it would make more sense to stick more money in alternative ways to solve the lack of donor organs.

    They should for example do more to make people register as organ donor. Moreover, if all the money that is now given to the development of these embryos is given to, for example the development of the mobile artificial kidney, then that would become usable for many people much quicker.

  5. Do we want to harm nature and animals in this way?

    In the last few years we understand more and more that breeding too many animals leads to problems. It leads to more green house and other gasses that aren’t good for our environments. That is one of the reasons that people are urged to eat less meat If they will need much more animals to grow new organ donors, then our planet becomes more and more uninhabitable for us.

    Furthermore, there is more and more protest against animal testing and more and more alternatives are being developed. Do we then really want these new developments for which we’ll need a lot of animals in which we can grow organs that are meant for humans?

So even though there isn’t a lot of turmoil about these researches yet and not much is going wrong at the moment, I think that it makes sense to consider carefully whether this is really what we should want. If it goes wrong, then we’re too late. Moreover, the money will be better spent when it would go to the development of alternatives that are safer.

What do you think about this? Should we do everything possible to get enough donor organs and to fight other diseases? Or do yo u question this research too? Share your opinon below or on the forum!

Watch the vlog that goes with this blog:

I will create the vlog that goes with this blog soon!

Stay up to date for what happens on Belicons and subscribe to my monthly newsletter

Watch the vlog that goes with this blog: 

Let’s also try to learn from others when it comes to ethical issues

New technologies often raise a lot of discussion. Unfortunately, proponents and opponents are mostly only expressing their own opinion and don't try to learn from each other. If we would try to understand someone who thinks very differently than we do, then we would suddenly come to see better solutions and that is of course better for society as a whole.» Watch this vlog

Other blogs of this theme: 

Step counters: the way to make us exercise more?

In order to stimulate us to exercise more, step counters are created. The idea is: 10.000 steps a day and you have done enough. I have tried one and have noticed that it is also a one-sided way to...» Read this blog

Why do governments put so much faith on numbers?

Regularly governments confront us with numbers that say that everything is okay, but at the same time people in the country do not feel okay. I think that the problem here is that governments don’...» Read this blog

Vlogs of this theme: 

Technical devices don’t help to exercise more

Many people who want to exercise more, often enthusiastically make use of all kinds of devices. However, I don’t believe in this. Devices can support us, but not make us exercise.» Watch this vlog

Be critical about numbers!

My vlogs are about things we create. Next to object, numbers are important in this too, for numbers and calculations can affect our lives greatly. What do you think about this? Let me know!» Watch this vlog