In Greek mythology, the Chimera is a monstrous fire-breathing animal hybrid, usually depicted as a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that ends with a snake’s head.
Now, unscrupulous scientists are fashioning even worse than Chimeras — animal-human hybrids — by injecting human stem cells into animals, to grow human organs for eventual transplant.
In January 2016, it was reported that scientists in Japan successfully used human stem cells to grow a human ear on the back of a rat. (Discovery)
In September 2015, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it would not support research involving “human-animal chimeras” because of the hybrids may blue the line between species by ending up with human brain cells. But some U.S. research centers are defying the federal government with support from other funding sources, such as California’s state stem-cell agency. They are growing human tissue inside pigs and sheep, with the goal of creating hearts, livers, or other organs for transplants. (See “Defiling God’s creation: Scientists are creating animal-human hybrids“)
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, is one such research center.
Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, 55, is a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratories at the Salk Institute. A native of Spain, he received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Pharmacology at the University of Bologna, Italy and the University of Valencia, Spain. In 2004, he helped establish the Center for Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona and was its Director for 10 years, from 2004 to 2014. He is the recipient of several awards and honors, including the William Clinton Presidential Award, the Pew Scholar Award, the Gold Medal of the Junta Castilla-La Mancha, and the Roger Guillemin Endowed Nobel Chair.
At the Salk Institute, Dr. Izpisua Belmonte heads a team of scientists who “discovered a new type of stem cell that allowed them to develop the first reliable method for integrating human stem cells into an animal embryo. This could help them overcome a major hurdle toward growing replacement organs for humans.” If allowed to grow after birth, the chimeric embryo creature would be an animal-human hybrid or chimera.
In a phone interview with Christine Gorman, an editor of Scientific Americanmagazine, published on January 25, 2016, Dr. Izpisua Belmonte said the following in answer to Gorman’s question, “How far along have these human-animal chimeras developed?”:
“We are entering into an ethical [area]. Because there are some people who think that we shouldn’t mix human cells with other animals and there are others who don’t care, so to speak. Here in California, we have gone through the different committees and they allow us to have a pig embryo develop for a month. Which is one third of their gestation. At that point you can see already all of the major organ primordia.
There are other countries. I’m from Spain and Spain has been quite open to this field of stem cell research. And they have allowed us to go until the animal is born. So in theory we could have a pig born with the human organ. It was not easy. Even though Spain is quite open to this stem cell research area, at the same time, Spain is a very Catholic country, so we had to go through the Pope. He very nicely said yes. This is to help people.”
When Gorman expressed surprise and asked, “The current Pope?,” Dr. Izpisua Belmonte confirmed that indeed he was referring to Pope Francis, i.e., Jorge Bergoglio:
“Yes. The current Pope. So the Vatican is behind this research and has no problem based on the idea is to help humankind. And in theory all that we will be doing is killing pigs.
Dr. Izpisua Belmonte acknowledges that animal-human hybrids could develop human brain cells:
“One problem and the major problem is that these cells could colonize the brain of the animal in which you put them. And obviously it would not be appropriate to have an animal with neurons from people. Or these cells could colonize the germline so that the sperm or the oocytes of that pig would be human. So to avoid that the government of Spain allowed us to have the pig be born and then immediately after to be sacrificed.
But I was not happy with that. People will think that still you will have an embryo maybe with some neuron contribution. And even though the pig is not born, there are people who believe that that should not be done. So we are devising genetic engineering technology so that if a cell becomes a neuron it is just destroyed in the embryo. Any cell that starts to be taught okay you are going to become a neuron at the moment of the first stages of neurogenesis, we are putting a toxin construct in it so that it will be destroyed by itself. So that will prevent any pig embryos from having human neurons so to speak.
I feel that this will still generate controversy. Many people will think one way and others will think differently, so it is impossible to have a consensus. My feeling is that we still need to better understand these issues of cell competence, of mixing cells in embryogenesis—the rules of development, so to speak. And I am a developmental biologist by background and that is my own interest. It will take a long time to have all these hopes and dreams come true.”
According to a statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Catholic Church supports ethically responsible stem cell research and “has long supported research using stem cells from adult tissue and umbilical cord blood, which poses no moral problem.” Ethically irresponsible research is any research that “exploits or destroys human embryos,”which would include “research as currently conducted” that employs embryonic stem cells. However, the Church “welcomes” proposed research that obtains “embryonic stem cells or their pluripotent equivalent without creating or harming embryos”.
An even more relevant document is Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions, which was issued in 2008 under Pope Benedict XVI by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as the Church’s doctrinal directives on embryonic ethical controversies. No. 33 of the Instruction clearly states the following on “attempts at hybridization”:
From the ethical standpoint, such procedures represent an offense against the dignity of human beings on account ofthe admixture of human and animal genetic elements capable of disrupting the specific identity of man. The possible use of the stem cells, taken from these embryos, may also involve additional health risks, as yet unknown, due to the presence of animal genetic material in their cytoplasm. To consciously expose a human being to such risks is morally and ethically unacceptable.
Animal-human hybrids do exactly that by being “admixtures of human and animal genetic elements” which “disrupt the specific identity of man”.
However, according to eminent biologist Dr. Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, Pope Francis approves of research that uses human stem cells to grow human organs in animal, which may lead to the animal developing HUMAN brain cells.
But that’s okay with Jorge Bergoglio, so long as the animal-human hybrid is immediately killed after it’s born. All in the name of the end justifying the means — “doing good” by “helping humankind”.
And who’s to say there aren’t scientists, even in Spain, who disobey the rule by letting the chimera survive after birth?
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Dr. Eowyn’s article first appeared at Fellowship of the Minds.