National Institute Of Health (NIH) Researchers US Lift Ban On Funding For Human Animal hybrids
National Institute of Health Researchers in The United States Will Soon Be Able to Resume Chimera-based projects.
Since September 2015, researchers have been banned from receiving funding from the US National Institutes of Health NIH for adding human stem cells to animal embryos, creating blends called chimeras. But an NIH proposal released on 4 August lifts that moratorium, with certain exceptions. It also sets up a panel to review the ethics and oversight of grant applications. The proposal shortens the window during which human cells can be introduced into non-human primate embryos, disallowing it before the central nervous system begins to form. This limit the number of human cells incorporated into a chimera’s brain. It also prohibits breeding animals containing human cells, preventing growth of a chimeric embryo in a non-human womb or the birth of an animal more humanized than its parents. Grant applications that fall into a grey area would undergo a panel review. The panel will pay particular attention to projects involving primates, mammals at very early developmental stages or those in which human cells could affect an animal’s brain. Past a certain point, rodent embryos with human cells that could affect brain development are exempt from panel review, because there is little chance they would become human-like, says Carrie Wolinetz, NIH’s associate director for science policy in Washington DC. Currently, researchers use chimeras to study early embryonic development and human diseases. But a major goal is to engineer animals to grow human organs that could then be transplanted into patients. Unlike in the United States, it is illegal to perform such research without approval in the United Kingdom, even with private funding. Steven Goldman, a neuroscience at the University of Rochester in New York, says that the 2015 ban was overkill and is relieved that it will be lifted. But Ali Brivanlou, a developmental biologist at Rockefeller University in New York City, says that the new rules should focus on limiting the percentage of the animal that becomes human instead of restricting the timing of modifications. Bioethics Francoise Baylis, at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, worries that there are no clear guidelines on how chimeras should be treated when used as research subjects. These are the kinds of questions that the oversight panel will discuss when reviewing grant applications, says Wolinetz. The NIH proposal is open for public comment for 30 days, after which the agency will issue a final rule. Wolinetz hopes that it will be ready for the January 2017 grant cycle.