The scientists at Stanford University have succeeded in developing world's first human-sheep hybrid triggering a new revolution in medical research. The interspecies chimera - as these organisms are called - are being developed to grow human organs in their body.
Such projects have been taken up by many institutes but none of them came close to Stanford's achievement. These types of the experiment have the consensus of the academia and the law as well.
The team of stem cell biologists led by Dr. Hiro Nakuachi implanted human stem cells in sheep embryos. The scientists genetically engineered the embryo and nulled its ability to grow pancreas.
They hope that the void will be filled by human cells forming a pancreas in the embryo. The development of the chimera, however, could not advance further than about three weeks as prevalent laws forbade it.
However, the nature of the human cell growth in the fetus encouraged the researchers and gave new insight into the experiment. They believe that they are on the right track.
Dr. Pablo Ross, an associate of Dr. Nakuachi, explains that the sheep is a good model for these kinds of research. Humans and Sheep share a physiological similarity in some organs. As a matter of fact, sheep have been involved in many revolutionary experiments and the first clone of the world was a sheep.
This experiment may pave the path for new fields of study. But for the time being, the Biologists are more interested in growing human organs and harvesting them for transplant.
The experiments with rats have previously hinted the viability of these methods. The pancreas grown in a rat was successfully transplanted into a diabetic mouse and it cured the ailment.
The scientists are trying to achieve a similar feat with the chimeras. A large number of patients enlisted in organ transplant list support the utility of the discovery.
The discovery, no matter how significant, has raised the alarm in civic circles. Animal Rights group have questioned the research on ethical & moral grounds. They deemed it a horrible crime against animals as well as humans.
Dr. Ross agrees to the concern of morality but also explains that things are not as simple as they seem. He clarified that the 'hybrid' is far from the image of a sheep with human body parts or any other wild, mythical fantasy.
There are less than 0.01% of human cells in the fetus' body. The aim is just to make the animal's body a viable host for human organs so that we can harvest it for our use.
Think of it as a surrogate sheep raising your liver or pancreas. He also warned that the advancements would be curbed in case the number of human cells exceeds the threshold they have set.
Amidst protest from some activists, the research is being done positively by the scientific community.
If the scientists manage to accomplish their goal of growing human organs, it will be a groundbreaking achievement with better medical solutions for the society.