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NIH Revisits Chimera Research

The US National Institutes of Health is revisiting its moratorium on chimera research, NPR reports.

The agency currently won't fund research seeking to introduce human pluripotent cells into animal embryos before the gastrulation stage, writes Carrie Wolinetz, the associate director for science policy at NIH, at her Under the Poliscope blog. Such research, a seperate NPR piece adds, raises concerns that animals with human cognitive abilities could be unintentionally created or that animals with human eggs or sperm could be developed.

In time since that funding moratorium began last fall, Wolinetz notes that the agency has reviewed the state of the science and is now proposing changes to its policy. In the Federal Register, NIH says it will now consider funding studies in which human pluripotent cells are introduced into vertebrate embryos, though it would only consider research introducing human pluripotent cells into non-human primate embryos after the blastocyst stage.

NPR adds that, because of the ethical concerns surrounding such work, studies would go through an extra layer of review. "At the end of the day, we want to make sure this research progresses because it's very important to our understanding of disease. It's important to our mission to improve human health," Wolinetz tells NPR. "But we also want to make sure there's an extra set of eyes on these projects because they do have this ethical set of concerns associated with them."

While some researchers — such as the University of California, Davis's Pablo Ross who is trying to grow human organs in animals — are encouraged by these proposed changes, others are not, NPR says. New York Medical College' Stuart Newman tells NPR that the science fiction worlds of The Island of Dr. MoreauBrave New World, and Frankenstein appear to be coming closer to reality.

The proposed policy change is open for public comment for 30 days.