Genetics

09 January 2008

Plans to mix human, animal DNA

Scientists eager to splice human genes with animal cells are seeking public feedback on the prospect of such controversial research.

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Scientists eager to splice human genes with animal cells are seeking public feedback on the prospect of such controversial research, the Bioethics Advisory Committee (BAC) said.

A consultation paper on its website said the BAC considers human stem cell research to have considerable potential in the treatment of currently incurable diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

"While there have been significant advances in stem cell science and technology, research involving human-animal combinations is required for further progress," the BAC said.

Professor Lim Pin, BAC chairman, said scientists overwhelmingly want to conduct research in a way that is ethical.

Those favouring such research maintain it could be vital to finding cures to many human diseases. Mice with human brain cells could be used as test beds for Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease drugs, they said.

The city-state, with its ambitions to become a global bio-medical powerhouse, has the technology to create these "mixed animals" that can be created by infusing a human nucleus, the cell's nerve centre, with an animal egg or cell, Lim said.

Most countries prohibit so-called chimera research, although a parliamentary bill is up for discussion in Britain.

"Science in the distant future may even allow us to grow human organs in animals for transplants," Lim said.

Many oppose idea
Websites against such research say scientists would be playing God by creating half-human, half-animal monstrosities.

"Even if possible, it would be ethically unacceptable for scientists to create subhuman creatures with potentially human consciousness," Lim said, noting they are not asking to make a half-man, half-horse creature.

The research would likely involve only small amounts of human genetic tissue combined with distantly related animals such as rats or mice, he said.

The BAC, the country's research ethics watchdog, is inviting feedback online at www.bioethics-singapore.org and hopes to reach a decision by the end of this year. – (Sapa)

Read more:
Human, animal embryos combined

January 2007

 

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