Researchers conducting human-animal hybrid experiments struck fear into federal lawmakers worried that nightmare scenarios of Frankenstein creatures have become a reality.
Earlier this year, researchers announced a blending of man and monkey.
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, said in April that it participated with a China-led research team in an experiment by injecting human stem cells into monkey embryos. They allowed the resulting creature to live and grow for 19 days before terminating it. The researchers responsible for the technology used in the experiment said their work aided the study of embryonic development.
Federal officials have placed a moratorium on U.S. funding of such research. Still, they are reviewing the restrictions and scientific developments as Congress debates a bill to spend nearly $200 billion of taxpayers’ money on research and development endeavors to counter China.
Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican, said he is worried that such human-animal hybrid experiments will cross ethical boundaries and contravene the dignity and sanctity of human life.
“I mean, any of us could speculate on kind of the Frankenstein concept, let’s put it that way, which that was being referred to as in terms of what this leads to,” Mr. Braun said. “I don’t know. I think that I do believe that there’s a genuine interest in taking so much that we’ve learned through DNA analysis, understanding the genome of not only human beings but other animals, that there’s going to be that [temptation] contagion to go beyond maybe, just the altruistic effort of finding cures for very, very vexing ailments like ALS, like Alzheimer’s, like any of the diseases that are out there that are significant, that we’re not even to the point where we know exactly what causes it, let alone cures.”
Mr. Braun and fellow Republicans seek to outlaw chimeras involving the blending of human embryos with animal wombs and animal embryos with human wombs.
Now that a “chimera” is no longer an ancient mythological creature having parts of a lion, goat and serpent, but an actual human-animal hybrid, Republican lawmakers want to establish baselines for American research rooted in a belief in the dignity of human life.
Mr. Braun and Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Steve Daines of Montana sought to amend the Senate’s massive research and development spending bill last week to block certain human-animal chimeras, but the amendment failed by a 48-49 vote along party lines. Three senators did not vote.
Two absent Republicans — Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — could not have changed the outcome, Mr. Braun said. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, would have blocked a vote on the amendment or ensured that Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who also did not vote, would have joined the rest of the Democratic Caucus, he said.
Mr. Lankford said he thought blocking human-animal blending ought to have passed by a voice vote and was shocked to find Democratic opposition.
“We thought it was important to be able to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘No. The United States does not believe it is right to be able to do the blending of animals and humans for experimentation or to try to develop that and ultimately, as China’s on a path to be able to do, to try to implant and grow to a child,’” said Mr. Lankford. “That’s an entirely different direction.”
Mr. Braun, Mr. Lankford, five other senators, and 25 House members led by Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, wrote to the National Institutes of Health last week to raise concerns on the chimera research and request details about any ethical analysis the federal agency is pursuing.
The NIH did not respond to the lawmakers but has sponsored a review of ethical questions involving human-animal chimeras. The NIH and the Dana Foundation funded a study published in April by an ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to examine the ethical, regulatory and scientific issues associated with neural chimeras and neural organoid research.
The ad hoc committee included a member from the Salk Institute, which participated in the human-animal hybrid experiment. Another Salk Institute researcher oversaw the study. The report concluded that human-animal hybrid experimentation held potential benefits, but researchers should use words that do not attract the general public’s attention.
“The term ‘chimera’ is used because it is scientifically accurate, and the committee believes that its connection with the monsters of ancient myths is too remote to warrant avoiding its use,” said the report, titled “Emerging Field of Human Neural Organoids, Transplants, and Chimeras: Science, Ethics, and Governance.” “Research scientists and their institutional representatives can be cautioned to avoid terminology that may court attention but does their work a disservice by stimulating concerns that go far beyond the current state of the science.”
NIH did not answer The Washington Times’ questions about the study it sponsored, but an NIH spokesperson noted in an email the moratorium on federal funding involving chimera research.
The report avoided making recommendations but listed findings of potential benefits of chimera research to include knowledge of brain diseases that had potential application in the treatments of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, psychiatric diseases and other ailments.
The report said some studies of human-animal hybrid experimentation surrounding the brain, involving neural chimeras, created concerns about “animals acquiring attributes that could be viewed as distinctly human, or humans taking on roles that should be reserved for a deity.”
Republican lawmakers who are worried about human-animal hybrids say scientists should not play God. Mr. Lankford said scientific experimentation on animals is one matter but attempting to create new forms of life goes too far.
“There’s a real difference in taking human cells and injecting them into a mouse for cancer research and for other research. That’s been done, and it’s been done for a very long time, and we’ve had time to be able to process that,” said Mr. Lankford. “But trying to be able to create life is a very different threshold for me.”
Democrats say Republican opponents of the experiments are following ideology instead of science. Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who spoke on the Senate floor last week, said Republican efforts to outlaw chimera research undermine the development of treatments and lifesaving organ transplants.
“If we are serious about bipartisan commitment to American innovation, we’ve got to stop these ideological attacks on medical research and focus on the science and ultimately the health of our patients,” Ms. Murray said.
Mr. Braun, Mr. Lankford, Mr. Daines and Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma proposed the failed amendment outlawing certain chimeras.
Mr. Braun said he does not expect Democrats controlling the Senate to allow the legislation to advance.
If he gets the opportunity, he said, he expects pro-life advocates to help draw attention to the issue of human-animal blending. Senators have touted support for their actions from pro-life advocates at the Family Research Council, the Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and others.
Mr. Braun said he does not expect the Biden administration to listen to his concerns as the NIH reviews restrictions and developments for chimera research, but he wants the agency to know that some lawmakers are watching their moves closely.