Organ transplantation has become one of the last lines of therapy when treating patients that are suffering from end-stage failure. However, this process is widely inconsistent and not the most reliable simply because of the success of organ transplantation is heavily dependent on the overall availability of donor organs. However, there is some hope in recent developments in stem cell research.
Organ regeneration via stem-cell research and animal embryos could be a means to tackle the donor shortage in the world of transplantation medicine. Nevertheless, this pursuit could pose a lot of ethical questions.
Approving the First Human-Animal Embryo Experiments
Japanese Stem Cell researcher Hiromitsu Nakauchi, who leads teams at the University of Tokyo and Stanford University in California, has become the first scientist to receive government support to create animal embryos that have human cells, that would then, in turn, be transplanted into surrogate animals. Though this may sound like something out of a science fiction film, there is a method to this madness.
As mentioned above, as is Nakauchi's goal, researchers aim to create animals with organs made of human cells that would eventually be used in transplantation medicine.
Challenges and Ethical Concerns
Before Nakauchi was given this opportunity by Japan’s science ministry, procedures like these were banned for both ethical and technical reasons. A community of bioethicists is concerned that human cells might move beyond just the development of the targeted organ and migrate to the developing animal's brain and affect its cognition.
Nakauchi and colleagues plan to take the appropriate steps needed to avoid complications like these. They plan on taking things slowly during the initial stages of the experiment. The team plans on growing the hybrid 14.5 days when the animal's organs are mostly formed " and almost to term".
“We are trying to do targeted organ generation, so the cells go only to the pancreas,” said Nakauchi. The team then intends on conducting a similar procedure with rats, eventually moving on to pigs after applying for government approval.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of the scientific community responds to this news as this research does hold a lot of promise, potentially opening the doors for more treatments down the road.