Researchers led by Spanish scientist Juan Carlos Izpisúa have created the first-ever monkey-human hybrid embryo in a bid to find new ways to harvest organs for transplants.
The team have previously experimented on rats and pigs and say their experiments are aimed at curing diseases and helping find new ways to meet the demand for transplant organs.
Avoiding legal issues
The team, led by Izpisúa and made up of researchers from the Salk Institute in the U.S. and the Murcia Catholic University (UCAM) in Spain, genetically modified monkey embryos in order to deactivate genes that lead to the formation of organs, Spanish newspaper El País reports.
The researchers also injected human stem cells, capable of creating any type of human tissue, in the forming embryo.
The scientists essentially created a monkey with human cells. They halted the growth process at 14 days before the modified monkey embryo could grow a central nervous system.
The experiment was carried out in China so as to avoid legal issues. However, the ethics of the controversial experiment are in question, with the team acknowledging that they wouldn't have been able to carry them out elsewhere.
Juan Carlos Izpisúa and his team have previously experimented on human-pig hybrid embryos and mouse-rat hybrids.
Doctor Ángel Raya, the director of the Barcelona Regenerative Medicine Center, told El País that experiments with chimeras face “ethical barriers." He said:
“What happens if the stem cells escape and form human neurons in the brain of the animal? Would it have consciousness? And what happens if these stem cells turn into sperm cells?”
Horror experiment or human progress?
A collaborator on the monkey-human hybrid embryo project, Estrella Núñez, said that the findings "are very promising" and that they are aimed at helping humanity.
“What we want is to make progress for the sake of people who have a disease. The ultimate goal would be to create a human organ that could be transplanted," she told El País.
The team will wait to publish their findings in an internationally renowned scientific journal before revealing more details.