Human-Aminal Chimeras: Kramer’s Pigman Might Be Coming to a Lab Near You

Christ and Pop Culture | 11/8/2016 | Nana Dolce
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Who can forget Kramer’s brush with “the Pigman” in episode five of Seinfeld’s fifth season? An accidental encounter with a supposed “half pig, half man” hybrid convinces Kramer that “the government’s been experimenting with pig-men since the ’50s!” Impassioned by the idea, he makes it his goal to liberate the creature (who is really an overweight man from the mental ward).

Kramer would probably be fascinated by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) August 4, 2016, proposal to remove funding restrictions on research that introduces human stem cells into animal embryos. These experiments could potentially create the very “Pigman” of Kramer’s dreams.

Injection - Cells - Animals - Nothing - Researchers

The injection of human cells into animals is nothing new. Biomedical researchers have been growing and treating human tumors in mice for decades. But this recent NIH plan is entirely different. The suggestion here is to fund research that infuses embryonic human stem cells into early animal embryos in order to produce a human-animal organism known as a chimera, a being composed of two or more genetically distinct species.

Carrie Wolinetz, associate director for science policy at the NIH, explains:

Advances - Stem - Cell - Gene - Technologies

With recent advances in stem cell and gene editing technologies, an increasing number of researchers are interested in growing human tissues and organs in animals by introducing pluripotent human [stem cells] into early animal embryos. Formation of these types of human-animal organism, referred to as “chimeras”, holds tremendous potential for disease modeling, drug testing, and perhaps eventual organ transplant. However, uncertainty about the effects of human cells on off-target organs and tissues in the chimeric animals, particularly in the nervous system, raises ethical and animal welfare concerns.

A layman’s paraphrase might read something like this: funding human-animal chimeric research could lead to great medical advances like growing human organs for transplant purposes (e.g., a human pancreas in a pig). On the other hand,...
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