Researchers from Japan, including experts in stem cell development and the medical sciences, are set to discuss today possible ground rules for experiments involving animal-human embryos. This group of Japanese researchers is currently seeking permission for tests that could allow them work towards human organs being produced inside the growing body of an animal via human induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells introduced into an animal embryo creating a so-called “chimeric embryo”, which they can then implant into an animal’s womb.
The objective here, ultimately, is to see this stem cell grow into a fully-functioning human organ – a human kidney or liver, for example – as the host animal matures, giving hope that scientists could then harvest organs from fully-grown host animals and use them for transplanting to a person in need. Stem cells can theoretically do this, as they are infant cells that can develop into any part of the body. “Experts will study what possibilities this kind of research will generate,” especially with issues regarding ethics and human dignity, a Japanese government official said in an interview. This group’s recommendation will then be forwarded to the Japanese government next month, and they in turn are expected to begin drafting specific rules and guidelines for this aspect of Japan’s ventures into science. What the government would decide would be notable in that it would most likely shape the boundaries of Japan’s leading-edge embryonic research.
There are rules that are set in place as of the moment – Japan currently allows scientists to grow chimeric embryos for two weeks in test tubes, but prohibits researchers from putting those embryos into an animal’s womb, the government official said. The scientific environment in Japan has immensely helped in stem cell development, with the pioneering work done in 2006 by Shinya Yamanaka – Nobel Prize winner in medicine last year – at Kyoto University finally succeeding in generating stem cells from skin tissue. Before his discovery, the only way to harvest human stem cells was directly from human embryos, controversial because it necessitated the destruction of the embryo. At that point, stem cell development heard objections from religious groups the world over.