About 20 years ago, Stuart Alan Newman (a professor of cell biology and anatomy in US) filed for a patent on a human-animal chimera (Humanzee; a hypothetical creature that would be half-human and half-chimpanzee) with the objective of suggesting the dangers that lay ahead rather than actually creating a chimeric creature. The application was rejected in 2005 and rightly so. The rejection was considered by Newman as a success in getting his point of view through. Earlier, a proposal to introduce human pluripotent stem cells into animal embryos has been the subject of immense controversy.
After a decade had passed since the rejection of patent application, National Institute of Health (NIH) has now revived the possibility of producing chimeric animals. The main argument being that it is virtually impossible to carryout experiments on human brain if cure is sought to the diseases like schizophrenia, Alzheimer´s, and depression etc. The Reasoning is logical as brains of people cannot be opened up while they are alive. The success means treating millions of people. Thus the research has the potential for some major medical breakthroughs in diseases like Alzheimer´s/Parkinson´s, conditions like infertility, and help grow organs for human transplant.
NIH is planning to fund a research programme to introduce human cells into certain kinds of animals as a potential means to functional modification of latter’s brain. The NIH will seek public comment for 30 days on the proposed scope of the research, while oversight on funding decisions will be provided by an internal NIH steering committee. In a blog post, Carrie Wolinetz (Associate Director for Science Policy, NIH) says,
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.
According to some commentators, animal-human mix is the stuff of science fiction although the research and its practical applications on mixing human and animal cells has been going on for decades. Scientists regularly implant human tumours in mice, while heart valves from pigs and cows are commonly used in human heart patients.
What if brain modifications are accomplished? Negative implications of the technology are many. For example, a pig with modified brain may start thinking like humans and worrying “why the humans have made them into a Guinea Pig”. Likewise, think of creating a mouse or a chimp that suddenly has human-like qualities. In a similar sense, we may end up having bodies like humans and brain like pigs. This could easily lead to use these humans as a source of organs since they technically won’t be humans and thus useless; humans unable to use their brain notwithstanding.
Other questions could be regarding the rights of chimeric creatures and the potential danger of their escape from the labs (advertent or inadvertent) and breeding with wild animals. Besides, ethical issues are more of a concern. The notion of altering Earth´s creatures may upset those who are religious, as well as those who support animal rights. And as it is always, politics may play a role in what gets funded and what does not.
The introduction of human cells into the animal embryo with whatever objectives, though appears as fiction, the concept has a long history. The mere use of word “CHIMERA” refers (in Greek mythology) to a fire-breathing female monster resembling a lion in the forepart, a goat in the middle, and a dragon behind. It was one of the hybrid offspring of Typhon (a monster giant and the most deadly being of Greek mythology that carried one hundred snake heads, that emitted fire and every kind of noise) and Echidna (a monstrous half-woman and half-snake). Chimera had monster sibling like Cerberus (often called the “Hound of Hades, was a monstrous multi-headed dog) and Lernaean Hydra (more often known simply as the Hydra, was a serpentine water monster in Greek and Roman mythology). It was supposedly found in Lycia in Asia Minor.
Chimera devastated Caria (a region of western Anatolia) and Lycia (a geopolitical region in Anatolia in what are now the provinces of Antalya and Muğla on the southern coast of Turkey, and Burdur Province inland). She was ultimately slain by Bellerophon (in Greek mythology, the greatest hero and slayer of monsters, before the days of Heracles OR Hercules).
Thus not only the concept but the devastating consequences of such a creation are clearly mentioned in earlier times that appeared a fiction so far. With the news from NIH, it looks like we are going to pursue Greek mythology more vigorously that may lead to creation of monsters of unknown composition and function. The next logical step with this eventuality will be to finding ways to destroy the monster(s) before they destroy the human race. This is how science and politics work/funded and will continue to remain so. Of course engineering at organ, cellular or sub-cellular level has known and unknown consequences that are comprehended only when the product enters the destined field.You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ for more updates. Otherwise fill in the subscription box above, or subscribe to our RSS Feed.