Organ transplants

Is It Ethical to Grow Human Organs in Pigs?

Fomenting another useless moral panic over biotechnology

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PigsOrgansEvelynSimakCreativeCommons
Creative Commons: Evelyn Simak

More than 120,000 Americans are currently on waiting lists for lifesaving organ transplants. Every day some 22 of them die before they can receive a transplant. Wouldn't it be great if organs precisely matched to their recipients could be grown inside domesticated animals, such as pigs or sheep?

Scientists are trying to achieve just this goal, but some ethicists are opposed to the research.

At Stanford University, stem cell researcher Hiromitsu Nakauchi has made some significant steps toward growing human organs inside of animals. As a proof of principle experiment, he grew a rat pancreas in a mouse. He did this by disabling the gene for generating a pancreas in a mouse embryo, then injecting the embryo with stem cells from rats. The rat stem cells took up this vacated "organ niche" and differentiated into fully functioning pancreases.

Such cross-species mixtures are called chimeras, after the creature from Greek mythology that was part lion, part goat, and part serpent. Nakauchi also successfully used this method to grow a functioning pancreas in a pig using stem cells from a genetically different pig.

Nakauchi is now working with Pablo Ross, a developmental biologist at the University of California, Davis, to create human-pig and human-sheep embryos to see if the technique can produce human organs. The genes for generating specific organs are disabled and human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are injected into pig and sheep embryos. Induced pluripotent stem cells are adult cells that have been genetically reprogramed to an embryonic stem-cell-like state. Once reprogrammed, iPSCs can grow into different types of cells and tissues. For example, reprogrammed skin cells would be able to differentiate into liver cells or heart cells.

Once the human-pig and human-sheep chimeric embryos are created, they are installed in the wombs of pigs and sheep, where they are allowed to gestate for 28 days before being removed for examination. Normal gestation is 114 days and 152 for pigs and sheep respectively. For now, they stop short of full gestation in an effort to avoid ethical controversy.

Last year, the National Institutes of Health imposed a moratorium on funding any research in which human pluripotent cells are introduced into non-human animal embryos.  But why would anyone object to this potentially lifesaving research?

"You're getting into unsettling ground that I think is damaging to our sense of humanity," the New York Medical College biologist Stuart Newman told NPR this week. Sufficiently unsettling, in fact, that some U.S. senators tried to outlaw human-animal chimera research back in 2009. In the same NPR report, Jason Robert, a bioethicist at Arizona State University, said, "One of the concerns that a lot of people have is that there's something sacrosanct about what it means to be human expressed in our DNA." He added that some people might consider that inserting human DNA into "other animals and giving those other animals potentially some of the capacities of humans that this could be a kind of violation—a kind of, maybe, even a playing God."

PigOrgansDeccanChronicle
Deccan Chronicle

One issue that worries folks like Newman and Robert is the possibility that human stem cells, instead of growing into transplantable hearts, kidneys or livers, might migrate to the brains of animals or to their reproductive organs. Would human neurons in the brains of pigs generate something like human consciousness? It is worth noting that mice, into which glial cells obtained from donated human fetuses were injected into their brains when they were pups, learned much faster to fear a sound associated with a mild electric shock than did their normal confreres. But while the human brain cells boosted the efficiency of mouse neural networks, they did not confer any specifically human qualities on the mice.

When worrying about the migration of human stem cells into the brains of animal embryos, it is also important to keep in mind that pig brains are only about an eighth the size of humans and those of sheep about a tenth the size. (As for other animals, I should note that the National Academy of Sciences issued guidelines in 2010 urging researchers not to inject human stem cells into nonhuman primates at any stage of embryonic or postnatal development.)

Another concern: If human stem cells grew into ovaries and testes, it might be possible for human-pig chimeras to mate and possibly give birth to a human child. The simplest way to avoid this problem would be to make sure that any such chimeras never get close enough to one another to breed.

Ultimately, concerns about humanizing animal brains or reproductive organs will be precluded if Nakauchi's hypothesis is further confirmed that human stem cells confine themselves to occupying and proliferating only in organ niches made vacant by experimenters. Other researchers note it is possible to avoid the issue entirely by disabling genes in human stem cells that could give rise to neurons or reproductive cells.

Are such experiments really somehow inherently "damaging to our sense of humanity" or in violation of "something sacrosanct"? Nonsense. To make such claims is to confuse human organs and human DNA with human beings. A heart or liver is not a person, whether or not it is grown in a pig. And Human DNA is just the instructions on how to make a human body; it isn't a human body or brain.

To people worried that growing human organs animals somehow violates human dignity, bioethicist David Shaw asked the right question: "Is it dignified to let people suffer and die when we could use this new biotechnology to provide them with organs that will let them live long and happy lives?"

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  1. Anything for the sake of more & tastier Bacon, say I.

    1. If it contains human DNA wouldn’t it be cannibalism?

        1. Long live the Long Pig! At least long enough to appear at the end of my long dining fork… WITH a nice chilled chianti (spelling?)… Well OK, Mad Dog 20-20 will do in a pinch…

          Long pig dipped in cheez-whiz sauce; whut kind of wine goes well with that, anyway?

        2. The Other Other White Meat!

      1. What are you, some kind of vegetarian freak?

      2. Also = being slightly technical and in the theme of our typical Anti-GMO retard-smackdowns…

        – “DNA” is not exclusive to any species. You take any given chunk of DNA from one beastie and you will often find very similar bits all over the chains of others.

        Calling something “Human” DNA is like saying that a 1/4inch bolt that came from a Locomotive is somehow “out of place” when used in an Airplane or Automobile or Washing Machine

        – Secondly, growing human organs in a pig doesn’t somehow magically change Pig DNA in the first place. Its (tasty) legs don’t become ‘more human’ because its got Man Kidneys, duh.

        1. You have all the humor of the shit I just flushed.

            1. Have you EVER tried Moo Goo Gai Pan in a Poo Poo Pie Pan?

              It is to DIE for!!!!

        2. Concerning genetics, human and pig DNA are strikingly similar. In biology classes, students study pigs due to their similarity to human anatomy. That’s probably why pigs were used for the experiment in the first place.

        3. your correct…DNA is just a building block, a part of the whole.
          The whole argument is mute though. Its been a brass ring for years to grow human organs in animals. So far it hasn’t worked out. Once it does its only a short time before we do it directly in humans.

          As for using manipulated DNA in an animal–anyone against it, try dialysis for a month then we can talk. Dialysis is brutal.

      3. Considering that bacon is belly fat, I don’t think there is a shortage of that “organ” for humans.

    2. The more important question: is it ethical for a pig to refuse to eat Jews?

  2. Is there a way we could, like, ask the pigs?

    1. Good idea – let’s meet the meat.

      1. A Meat-Moot?

      2. It’s always good to meet the Dish of the Day……..

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xK-zYBIuotE

    2. Is there a way we could, like, ask the pigs?

      Sans the appearance of meaningful cobwebs nearby, the pig is surely volunteering.

  3. but some ethicists are opposed to the research.

    In my experience, humanity would be better off if every bioethicist was set on fire and their ashes used to fertilize crops.

    Actually we’d still be better off if we were to waste their ashes, dumping them in the wild. Or better yet, save the energy and just dump them on a desert island to starve. Useless mouths.

    1. WAIT, but we wanted to solve the lack of organ donors problem, right?? See, there’s better, more useful things to be done with bioethicists than desert islands!!

      1. Bioethicist organs are all stringy and gross, though.

        1. It’s all the organic Kale.

          1. Is the Kale free range because I can’t eat Kale constrained by a farmer.

    2. In my experience, humanity would be better off if every bioethicist was set on fire and their ashes used to fertilize crops.

      Actually we’d still be better off if we were to waste their ashes, dumping them in the wild. Or better yet, save the energy and just dump them on a desert island to starve. Useless mouths.

      Couldn’t we use them to feed human-pig chimeras?

      1. Shites! I’ll one-up ye: Why not a human-politician chimera? The actual brains and thinking powers (common sense) of a rational human brain, spliced into the body of a tall, good-looking politician with good hair and appealing sound bites, and the instincts of appealing to all the special interests… Just THINK of what we could DOOOO with such a hybrid, chimeric beast!

    3. How is it that bioethicists never seem to land on an ethical imperative to do more to help more people?

      I can’t think of a single bio-ethical pronouncement off of the top of my head that was either (a) let people decide for themselves what they want (which seems pretty ethical to me) or (b) we should do more to help people (which also seems pretty ethical).

      Instead, they spend their time writing apologia for Top Men deciding for people what they should get, and reasons why we shouldn’t even try to do more.

      1. Then maybe you should RTFA, because Ron must have searched high and low to find one with non-retarded opinions:

        bioethicist David Shaw asked the right question: “Is it dignified to let people suffer and die when we could use this new biotechnology to provide them with organs that will let them live long and happy lives?”

      2. That’s easy, they hate themselves so much they also hate every other human.

  4. I could see a pro-life panic if they were using embrionic stem cells, but they’re using iPSCs, so the opposition to this, like so many other things, is just SCIENCE SCARY!!

  5. s It Ethical to Grow Human Organs in Pigs?

    Yes, next question.

    1. Is it ethical to grow ethicists in schools?

        1. Is it organic to grow pig ethics in humans?

          1. And now you’re sounding like a leftard.

          2. I think the pig ethics are already well established in the organic humanoids…

            Is it ethical to genetically breed the humanoids to REMOVE the pig ethics?!?!? (I say yes).

            But after we have removed the pig ethics from ourselves, will we be just at least barely piggish enough to EAT ALIVE any piggish mutants that arise amongst ourselves??!?! ‘Cause that’s what it might take…

  6. Ethicists are really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

    1. You get into that line of work for the NPR interviews. If you can’t crack it there, you just end up with a lot of college debt and nothing to show for it.

    2. Bottom of the pork barrel?

  7. Whats horrifying is that we’re only one bear away from ManBearPig.

    1. Is it ethical to grow pig organs in manbears? Jesse, can you answer this one for us?

    2. Then we might have to start taking Al Gore seriously again.

  8. Is It Ethical to Grow Human Organs in Pigs?

    Let me answer that question by posing another:
    “Is It Ethical to Grow Pig Organs in Humans?”

    1. I’ll run down to the Walmart later and check.

    2. Interesting equivalence given that we eat pigs.

      Is it ethical to eat people?

      1. Charlton Heston ambivalent.

      2. Soylent Green is people!

        1. Today is Friday! The scoops don’t come til Tuesday!

      3. Can I GE myself to grow pork nibbles on my elbow to munch on when I get hungry? Would that be ethical?

  9. Wasn’t this on Seinfeld?

  10. I’m at least a little relieved (and sadly, surprised) to see that this is being argued from the point of view of human rights rather than pig rights. I was expecting to see some form of “but the pig can’t give informed consent to the procedure!” as if we really need to have a serious conversation about a ham sandwich being murder, if omelets involve kidnapping, and whether or not a grilled cheese sandwich involves sexual assault on a cow.

    1. Yes, although this argument is dumber than the pigs’ rights argument.

    2. Seriously, though, there is a difference between killing an animal for food and causing that animal needless suffering. That is why most people are OK with eating meat, but get upset when they learn about some modern husbandry condition, such as a cage that does not allow a pig to even turn around.

    3. we really need to have a serious conversation about a ham sandwich being murder,

      Yahweh commanded that we not eat pig. The penalty is the same as for murder.

      Goyim. smjh

      1. Dang, I thought it was that we weren’t allowed to eat the cloven-hoofed animals. Once you chop the feet off, it’s kosher. Same way that once you take them out of the water, it ain’t seafood no more. (It’s why the glory holes are such a big thing with the gays – you can’t lie with a man as with a woman, doing it standing up is perfectly fine.)

  11. The bioethicists are right, the pigs become humans if you grow a human organ in them. We all know the seat of our humanity, the thing that makes us human and sets us apart from the beasts, is our liver. My witch doctor friend told me so.

  12. If pigs aren’t people and fetuses aren’t people, could we, you know, harvest organs from a fetus and grow them inside pigs?

    1. There was that case of a family having a baby to try and get a marrow donor match for their other kid.

      1. On the face of it, that sounds pretty fucked up.

        1. Suzie, you will be happy to learn that you were not an accident. However, we are gonna have to suck out some of your bone marrow.

          1. Twins – one to raise and one for spare parts.

  13. “You’re getting into unsettling ground that I think is damaging to our sense of humanity,” the New York Medical College biologist Stuart Newman told NPR this week. Sufficiently unsettling, in fact, that some U.S. senators tried to outlaw human-animal chimera research back in 2009. In the same NPR report, Jason Robert, a bioethicist at Arizona State University, said, “One of the concerns that a lot of people have is that there’s something sacrosanct about what it means to be human expressed in our DNA.” He added that some people might consider that inserting human DNA into “other animals and giving those other animals potentially some of the capacities of humans that this could be a kind of violation?a kind of, maybe, even a playing God.”

    You can always count on NPR to bring in the throat-clearing bioethicists. They must have those people on fucking speed dial.

    So I suppose he’s also not comfortable with extreme burn victims being given skin grafts from pigs. I mean, they don’t call it “Xenografting” for nothin’!
    So I supped

    1. Mmm, cracklins.

      1. I choose to ignore this comment.

    2. You can always count on NPR to bring in the throat-clearing bioethicists. They must have those people on fucking speed dial.

      They’re a significant portion of the listenership. NPR doesn’t have to call them, they call NPR (and give them money even)!

      1. Sufficiently unsettling, in fact, that some U.S. senators tried to outlaw human-animal chimera research back in 2009.

        And what was talked about being banned in 2009 was significantly different from what is being done here. Selective and controlled growth of replacement organs in a pig is significantly different than mashing two embryos together and hoping you don’t end up having to tell whatever creation that had to be carried to term that its kidneys actually belonged to someone else and/or tell that someone else (or not) that the kidneys were harvested from a fully viable (or not) manbearpig.

        Still a pretty ridiculous piece of legislation, but it was a rather obvious fear response to the science fiction that was being propagated at the time.

    3. You can always count on NPR to bring in the throat-clearing bioethicists.

      The Progressive Theocracy has plenty of their own clergy.

  14. When I grow up, I’m going to Porcine University!!!

  15. Why not just grow the organs in clones of humans, then flush the human down the toilet after we take the organs? How would that be any more, or less, ethical than aborting fetuses and throwing them in the garbage? (Or selling their bits and pieces?)

    1. pigs grow to maturity faster.

    2. That actually seems more ethical. You’re not involving an unwilling pig.

  16. Did not the movie “The Island” warn us about using cloned for our organ harvesting? Then pigs it is.

    1. As did the movie Never Let Me Go which was much darker, more depressing and fewer explosions. And Keira Knightley.

    2. Never could understand why you would wake the clones up and let them walk around in the first place. I mean, that’s like Rule #1 of growing clones: don’t let the roam and pretend to be people or they will become people and break your shit.

      Exact same shit as 7th Day, only with less Arnold.

      1. Exact same shit as 7th Day, only with less Arnold.

        No. The 7th day had a deus ex machina *Machine* written explicitly into the plot. A pair of goggles that backs up the entirety of human consciousness up to a given point in time.

        With technology like that, why *wouldn’t* you wake up the clones? Or, at least, if “you” can exist in multiple iterations across multiple systems, WTF difference does it make that some of them are meat instead of hardware?

        It’s like creating version control software/technology for the human mind and then laboring over the ethics of implementing it on magnetic storage medium.

  17. Aren’t scientists already growing meat (beef) in the lab? I see this man/pig thing being short lived. Hydroponics, baby!

  18. Is It Ethical to Grow Human Organs in Pigs?

    That’s something we’ll have to ask Winston’s mom about, innit?

    1. Winston’s mom is so Lowe energy.

      1. I hate it that the auto-correct is a better comedian than me.

  19. The concerns I would have about the procedure are largely cleared by the use of adult pluripotent stem cells and this “Other researchers note it is possible to avoid the issue entirely by disabling genes in human stem cells that could give rise to neurons or reproductive cells.”

    My only qualm with the author of this piece is in regards to this, “And Human DNA is just the instructions on how to make a human body; it isn’t a human body or brain.” It is essentially a true statement, but I am skeptical of any words that have the potential to diminish human potential. Still, with the more stable adult stem cells being used and if in fact scientists intentionally turn off the genes that could hypothetically pose an ethical problem, I don’t see an ethical issue.

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  21. RE: Is It Ethical to Grow Human Organs in Pigs?

    Not a good idea.
    The pigs will only end up voting for democrats and republicans.

  22. “…urging researchers not to inject human stem cells into nonhuman primates at any stage of embryonic or postnatal development. Another concern: If human stem cells grew into ovaries and testes, it might be possible for human-pig chimeras to mate and possibly give birth to a human child.”

    I like the David Brin uplift potential here, despite the Planet of the Apes warnig label. We are evolution. Inject away!

  23. “You’re getting into unsettling ground that I think is damaging to our sense of humanity,”

    “Our”?
    Does this guy have a turd in his pocket? Screw him and his bogus ‘sense of humanity’.

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  26. A heart or liver is not a person, whether or not it is grown in a pig. And Human DNA is just the instructions on how to make a human body; it isn’t a human body or brain.

    We don’t know enough about human nature and consciousness to make such assertions so blithely. Recipients of transplanted donor organs often report feeling that the transplant has changed their sense of their identity. That might be more than just perception.

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