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With Japan allowing the practice of growing human organs in animals, we find ourselves a rather awkward place in our history.
Stem cell biologist Hiromitsu Nakauchi is a nomadic fellow, jumping for land to land to find his Eden, a place where he can grow customised human organs in animals. At it turns out, his home country, Japan, has given him the green light.
Many countries around the world have restricted, defunded or outright banned these ethically-fraught practices, but Japan has made it legal to not only transplant hybrid embryos into surrogate animals, but also to bring them to term.
But, why Nakauchi-san?
“We don’t expect to create human organs immediately, but this allows us to advance our research-based upon the know-how we have gained up to this point,” Nakauchi told The Asahi Shimbun.
Hiromitsu’s initial experiments will be to grow a pancreas. He’ll start by injecting human-brand pluripotent stem cells into rat and mice embryos, with the rats genetically altered so they cannot create one of their own. The goal, apparently, is to make the rodent embryo use the human cells to grow the pancreas. If all goes well, they’ll elevate the practice to pigs.
With the possibility of the experiment coming down with a case of the Cronenbergs, Nakauchi stands on a slippery edge of a very shaky ethical precipice.
It’s also worth mentioning that we’ve made sheep-human hybrids in the past, which is to say, Nakauchi has made the hybrids in the past. His previous effort, a sheep that was 99.9% sheep and 0.01% human, was destroyed within a month of its complicated life.
Clearly, the primary issue (other than whether he should in the first place) is what the human cells will do when they’re inserted into an animal. With the possibility of the experiment coming down with a case of the Cronenbergs, Nakauchi stands on a slippery edge of a very shaky ethical precipice.
On that note, Nakauchi and his team have promised to pull the plug if they detect the rodent brains are turning human.
“We are trying to ensure that the human cells contribute only to the generation of certain organs,” Nakauchi explained the winter edition of Stanford Medicine’s Out There.
“With our new, targeted organ generation, we don’t need to worry about human cells integrating where we don’t want them, so there should be many fewer ethical concerns.”
What we stand at, if all goes well, is the evolution of the battery farm, as animals will solely be born and harvested for their organs. Which, I suppose isn’t that far from regular farming, but in an age when we’re far more sensitive toward the plight of our four-legged cohorts, would the idea be allowed to live?