green abstract cover of chimera special report

Special Report Calls for Improved Oversight on “Chimeric” Human-Animal Research

A new report on the ethics of crossing species boundaries by inserting human cells into (nonhuman) animals for research purposes – research surrounded by debate–makes recommendations clarifying the ethical issues and calling for enhanced oversight of this work.

The report, “Creating Chimeric Animals — Seeking Clarity On Ethics and Oversight,” was developed by an interdisciplinary team led by researchers at The Hastings Center and Case Western Reserve University and funded by the National Institutes of Health. Principal investigators are Karen Maschke and Josephine Johnston, research scholars at The Hastings Center, and Insoo Hyun, director of the Center for Life Sciences and Public Learning at the Museum of Life Sciences in Boston and previously a professor of bioethics and philosophy at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine.

Advances in human stem cell science and gene editing enable scientists to insert human cells more extensively and precisely into nonhuman animals, creating “chimeric” animals, embryos, and other organisms that contain a mix of human and nonhuman cells.

Many people hope that this chimeric research will yield enormous benefits, including better models of human disease, inexpensive sources of human eggs and embryos for research, and sources of tissues and organs suitable for transplantation into humans. 

But there are ethical concerns about this type of research, which raise questions such as whether the moral status of nonhuman animals is altered by the insertion of human stem cells,  whether these studies should be subject to additional prohibitions or oversight, and whether this kind of research should be done at all.

The report found that:

  • Animal welfare is a primary ethical issue and should be a focus of ethical and policy analysis as well as the governance and oversight of chimeric research.
  • Chimeric studies raise the possibility of unique or novel harms resulting from the insertion and development of human stem cells in nonhuman animals, particularly when those cells develop in the brain or central nervous system.
  • Oversight and governance of chimeric research are siloed, and public communication is minimal. Public communication should be improved, communication between the different committees involved in oversight at each institution should be enhanced, and a national mechanism created for those involved in oversight of these studies. 
  • Scientists, journalists, bioethicists, and others writing about chimeric research should use precise and accessible language that clarifies rather than obscures the ethical issues at stake. The terms “chimera,” which in Greek mythology refers to a fire-breathing monster, and “humanization” are examples of obscure, frightening, ethically laden, or overly broad  language to be avoided.

View the Executive Summary of the special report.

The Research Team

The Hastings Center

• Josephine Johnston
• Karen J. Maschke
• Carolyn P. Neuhaus
• Margaret M. Matthews
• Isabel Bolo

Case Western Reserve University

• Insoo Hyun (now at Museum of Science, Boston)
• Patricia Marshall
• Kaitlynn P. Craig

The Work Group

• Kara Drolet, Oregon Health & Science University
• Henry T. Greely, Stanford University
• Lori R. Hill, MD Anderson Cancer Center
• Amy Hinterberger, King’s College London
• Elisa A. Hurley, Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research
• Robert Kesterson, University of Alabama at Birmingham
• Jonathan Kimmelman, McGill University
• Nancy M. P. King, Wake Forest University School of Medicine
• Geoffrey Lomax, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine
• Melissa J. Lopes, Harvard University Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee
• P. Pearl O’Rourke, Harvard Medical School
• Brendan Parent, NYU Grossman School of Medicine
• Steven Peckman, University of California, Los Angeles
• Monika Piotrowska, State University of New York at Albany
• May Schwarz, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies
• Jeff Sebo, New York University
• Chris Stodgell, University of Rochester
• Robert Streiffer, University of Wisconsin-Madison
• Lorenz Studer, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
• Amy Wilkerson, The Rockefeller University