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Human-monkey cell research

An important ethical discussion has begun following the US-China scientific collaboration that has grown human cells in a monkey embryo successfully for the first time.

The advance has attracted widespread media coverage (New Scientist) questioning the ethics around such experiments, and how to decide what is human (The Conversation).

Human-animal embryos, known as chimeras, fuse stem cells from a human with cells from another species, and could be used for more efficient drug testing, or to grow human organs, as a solution to the lack of organs available for transplant.

However, ethicists have said that the field should proceed with caution, with Sarah Norcross of Progress Educational Trust commenting to the BBC, 'there is a clear need for public discussion and debate about the ethical and regulatory challenges raised'.

“We are not going to use monkeys to create human organs inside monkeys,” said research leader Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, of the Salk Institute, USA, in response to concerns that the research crosses ethical lines due to the closeness of monkeys to humans.

He added that the work was conducted in line with ethical guidelines and in a transparent manner, with the goal of seeing how the human and monkey cells interact and no intention of growing the embryos past this stage.

While leading bioethicist Insoo Hyun, of Case Western Reserve University, USA, gave a Q&A interview supporting the team and the way they had considered the ethics of such an experiment.


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