Human-Monkey Chimera Ethics
Have scientists gone too far?
The research is exciting, but I find no mention of the source for the human extended pluripotent stem cells (hEPSC). I am pleased that the group went through extra effort to seek guidance from additional bioethicists, but I worry that because the study did not receive federal funding, the bar may have been set lower for ethical review standards than had it received federal funding. That being said, the study may not have qualified for federal funding.
US scientists participated in this research being conducted in China. Does China have fewer rules? Is that why it was conducted there? The research has the appearance of trying to skirt ethical rules. Because they were not allowed to conduct this kind of research using human embryos, they went ahead and created hybrid embryos (monkey embryos with human materials inserted within them) and said - see, we're not breaking the rules because they aren't human embryos.
Have we not learned lessons from the case of Henrietta Lacks? Her ovarian cancer cells were used to create an immortal cell line commonly used by research laboratories around the world. I, myself, have used HeLa cells in the lab. Mrs. Lacks was never asked her permission to use cells from her body this way.
I would surely like to know if the human sources for the hEPSC were told their cells would be used to create human-monkey hybrid embryos. In my experience, many human donors of both genetic material and cells have only been told that their specimens would be used for "future research." Sometimes the researchers would tell them what kind of research - like cancer research, when cancer research was something much farther down the line from what they were really doing with the cells, or the researcher then decided to do diabetes research in addition to cancer research. In the case of the monkey-human chimera study, the article explains the research will be useful for learning how to harvest cells for "...regenerative medicine applications, including organ transplantation." Who wouldn't want to help with that?
But did they explain to the donors that to gain this valuable insight, they first needed to create a human-monkey hybrid embryo and let it develop until its eventual death after 20 days?
I have done transgenic research and I am pro-choice, but I don't think even I would want my cells used this way. And if I was told something broad like: your cells will be used for cancer research or to contribute to the body of knowledge pertaining to organ transplantation - and then I found out how - I would feel betrayed. I really hope the donors knew exactly what they were participating in.
I believe humanity would benefit from additional public input and oversight into research of this nature. I have grave concerns that we are on the precipice of screwing up our evolution, and possibly the evolution of other animals by creating hybrids that may escape, contaminate, or pollute wild populations and the baseline genetic makeup of humanity.
Here is the source document:
DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2021.03.020 Chimeric contribution of human extended pluripotent stem cells to monkey embryos ex vivo CellVol. 184Issue 8p2020–2032.e14Published in issue: April 15, 2021