Scientists have revealed that human organs for use in transplant operations are now being grown inside sheep and pigs.
According to the Mirror, more than 50 animals have been implanted with human-animal hybrid embryos, with the aim to develop fully functional human transplant organs to save the lives of patients waiting on donor lists.
More than 6,000 people have died while waiting for an organ transplant on the NHS in the last decade, but the development of the human-animal crossovers is causing controversy, with outraged animal welfare groups denouncing the experiments as ‘Frankenscience’.
The process involves genetically removing a major organ from an animal embryo, injecting human stem cells in its place, and then placing the embryo in the womb of a female pig or sheep. It’s hoped that surgeons would then be able to harvest the human organ for use in transplants.
The method is already widely used in mice but, according to MIT Technology Review, around 20 livestock in the U.S. have been impregnated with the ‘chimera embryos’ in the last year, with a further three dozen pregnancies thought to have taken place in other countries.
No human-livestock chimeras have been born yet and it’ll be several years before scientists know whether the transplants are safe to test in humans. However, Bruce Whitelaw, professor of animal biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, said British scientists are interested in carrying out their own experiments.
But not everyone is quite so keen, with some concerned that the implanting of human brain tissue could cause animals to take on human traits and develop higher intelligence, like something out of a Sci-Fi movie.
According to the Telegraph, National Institutes of Health ethicist David Resnik said:
The specter of an intelligent mouse stuck in a laboratory somewhere screaming ‘I want to get out’ would be very troubling to people.
Animal rights activists aren’t convinced either. Julia Baines, science policy adviser to Peta UK, condemned the research and said:
Creating human-animal hybrids is bad for people and worse for animals. To create animals containing human material, animal mothers undergo invasive procedures to harvest their eggs and implant embryos. These animals have exactly the same capacity to feel pain and suffer as any other animal, including humans.