The world’s pig farmers might be raising a lot more than our pork in the near future. Scientists from around the world are now developing a technique to grow actual human organs right inside pigs’ bodies.
Although it initially sounds off-putting, scientists say that patients currently on waiting lists for organ donations might finally stand a chance in the face of medical adversity, thanks to these recent developments. However, numerous questions are being asked about the safety and ethics of this potential practice.
How It Works
Scientists developed the two-stage procedure by continually tampering with the pig and human genetic codes. Stage one, known as CRISPR gene editing, starts the process by removing a DNA sample from the freshly fertilized pig embryo in order to prevent it from growing its pancreas.
Stage two is where it gets interesting, as scientists then use the synthetic gene void they created to introduce human stem cells into said embryo. Those stem cells develop into any type of body tissue needed and that tissue is compatible with the patient.
According to BBC News, the row, known as chimeras, are the products of a worldwide research experiment supposedly designed to surmount the alarmingly low supply of transplant organs available. This relatively simple technique has many people asking why it has not been a possibility until now.
The Reasons Behind the Red Tape
Perhaps the better question is not about how long it has taken, but how far we will take it. Have we stooped so low as to think we can enslave an entire species of the animal kingdom, making them our personal body parts cloning machines? The research team from the University of California, Davis seems to think so.
The controversial procedure was recently justified by the research team explaining how the oblivious pigs will look and behave as normal, despite the fact that they are being forced to mass produce spare parts for our bodies.
Not only are the human-pig chimera embryos being produced without regard for natural order or ethics, but the embryos are also being aborted after 28-62 days gestation, before being removed from the mother’s body via surgery for analysis of course.
This clinical approach to life means that the team has been fighting for their right to clone human body parts for nearly a year now, with very little support coming their way. According to the Guardian, the National Institutes of Health said no to financial support of the project last September and hasn’t changed its mind yet.
In fact, the NIH says there are numerous concerns about the possibility of those human stem cells traveling to the pig’s brain, which could ultimately make them more human-like. There is no currently no evidence that this won’t happen. So much for not affecting their appearance or behavior.
Furthermore, researchers at UC, Davis admit that other scientists are conducting similar experiments around the world – all without first removing the pancreas or another organ before injecting human DNA. Although none of the embryos from those experiments have been born, the implications could be far-reaching, Orwellian, and globally detrimental.
Clinical trials were halted once before in the mid-1990s, after concerns that human receivers could become infected with animal viruses, especially if the organ tissue had not been “cleaned” by the CRISPR gene editing process. With so much at stake and with such a huge margin for mistakes, it may be wise for mankind to err on the side of caution on this one.
Exploring the Alternatives
As human beings, we are stewards of this planet, charged with protecting the earth and its progeny. That might be why Peter Stevenson of Compassion in World Farming warns about the dangers of “opening up a new source of animal suffering.” He suggests the world deal with the shortage of transplant organs in a different way.
Perhaps, instead of allowing a group of scientists to open Pandora’s genetic box, we should encourage more people to become organ donors. Gene editing could transform the future, and most likely it will be a negative transformation because power seems to be mankind’s default objective.
PETA and other animal rights organizations are also perturbed by the thought of creating new organ farms in lieu of the staggering number of factory meat farms already in existence. The fact of the matter is plain: thousands of people will die this year while on a long organ transplant donor list, but the problem can be solved without putting the future of humanity and an entire animal species in harm’s way.
Some people are even saying the human body part production is not necessary for public health purposes at all but is instead a part of a much bigger, and more sinister, agenda – one that will eventually make use of cloning an entire human body. In short, the potential implications of the future of this “successful experiment” are frightening at best.