Part Human, Part Monkey Embryo Created By Scientist

Jesse Williams

By Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams

16 Apr 2021

A US-Chinese research team has sparked fresh ethics debate by injecting human stem cells into monkey embryos.

The hybrid was created in part to try to find new ways to produce organs for people who need transplants, said the international team of scientists who collaborated in the work. Stem cells which have the ability to develop into many different body tissues, were used by the Salk Institute in California to produce the monkey-human chimeras.

Prof Izpisua Belmonte, who led the experiment said: “These chimeric approaches could be really very useful for advancing biomedical research not just at the very earliest stage of life, but also the latest stage of life.”

Belmonte was also apart of the team who created the first human-pig hybrid in 2017, which ultimately failed leading them to try with a more closely related species macaques.

The results, published in the journal Cell, showed that human stem cells “survived and integrated with better relative efficiency than in the previous experiments in pig tissue” after being observed and destroyed after 20 days.

To some the whole experiment “poses significant ethical and legal challenges” and “opens Pandora’s box to human-nonhuman chimeras”.

Dr Anna Smajdor, lecturer and researcher in biomedical ethics at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, is one such critic saying: “This breakthrough reinforces an increasingly inescapable fact: biological categories are not fixed – they are fluid.”

Belmonte however insist that the work falls under current legal and ethical standards.

“As important for health and research as we think these results are, the way we conducted this work, with utmost attention to ethical considerations and by coordinating closely with regulatory agencies, is equally important. Ultimately, we conduct these studies to understand and improve human health.”