Debate over chimera embryos intensifies

Xavier Symons
September 10, 2016
Reproduced with Permission

The debate over research into chimera embryos has intensified in the US, as the National Institutes of Health considers abandoning its ban on the funding of controversial chimera experiments.

Last month the NIH announced that it expects to replace the extant ban with an "internal steering committee" that would make decisions on the funding of research.

In an opinion piece published last week in PLOS Biology , Case Western Reserve University bioethicist Insoo Hyun argued that the NIH should not be so cautious about research that is ethically permissible and has borne impressive results.

"Given the noble aims of this research, it is puzzling to some why the NIH is so nervous about providing federal funds to researchers with a track record of success in this area. The NIH has for years supported research in which human cells are transplanted into animal models, and it continues to fund human/nonhuman chimera research that lies outside the scope of research singled out in its notice of moratorium."

Hyun argued that the question of animal welfare may indeed be of more concern that than concerns about the "moral humanization" of chimeras.

"...the ethics and regulation of chimera research should prioritize animal welfare principles while at the same time enabling scientific progress in areas of humanitarian importance, albeit in a manner consistent with these principles."

On the other side of the ethical divide, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published an open letter to the NIH outlining a series of concerns about the proposed ethics framework.

"Catholic morality does not object in principle to the respectful use of animals in research that can benefit humanity. But because of the unique dignity of the human person, there are limits to what can morally be done along this line…

"The NIH proposal... [permits] the destruction of human embryos; it contemplates producing entities with partly or wholly human brains (without any additional level of scrutiny in the case of rodents); and it allows for producing living entities who have human gametes (though researchers will be told to take precautions so these entities do not engage in 'breeding')."

The USCCB called for the proposal to be set aside.