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Dangers in genetic research undertaken in Japan


According to the Nature magazine, Japan has authorized a new line of genetic research so animals can develop organs compatible with the human body. This would reduce the fateful search for donors.

In order to do this, an embryo of an animal would have to be modified so it cannot develop a specific organ such as a pancreas. 

By introducing a particular type of human cell into an embryo, the animal's organism will be used to produce a human pancreas. It can then be transplanted into a person in the future. However, before any experimentation there would have to be no ethical drawbacks.

PROF. ALBERTO CARRARA
Neuroethics Expert, Ateneo Regina Apostolorum

“The human cells used in this experiment are not embryonic; nor is there any thought of using them to transplant organs such as the brain. This is because these organs are closely linked to our identity. If this could be done, it would be morally unacceptable because the brain is closely related to our identity.”

PROF. ANTONIO G. SPAGNOLO
Università Cattolica, Director of the Institute of Bioethics

“The organs that will be produced are, so to speak, 'functional' organs. This means organs that perform 'mechanical' functions such as the heart, the liver, the pancreas.”

However, the experiment presents two other dangers. On the one hand, it's important to ensure animal viruses do not spread to the human being when transplanted; and secondly, to avoid human cells introduced into the animal's embryo do not change its nueron structure.

PROF. ALBERTO CARRARA
Neuroethics Expert, Ateneo Regina Apostolorum

“There are risks linked to the fact that human cells colonize the neuronal structures of the animal. In this case, if allowed to grow, it is feared they will establish relationships with the nervous system. There we find Frankenstein scenarios, where we do not know what could happen to the cognitive functions of the animal.”

PROF. ANTONIO G. SPAGNOLO
Catholic University, Director of the Institute of Bioethics

“The aim of this experiment has already been done in the past with transgenic animals. They are animals treated with human genes so their organs develop without the unhygienic characteristics of animals. These would be rejected by the human body when doing the transplant. In fact, these experiments have not been carried out yet because there remains the doubt that this animal organ, even if it has been 'humanized,' transmits virus to man.”

The producing of animal organs that are compatible with humans is an aim on science has been working on for decades. What has been approved in Japan would be a new path full of ethical and professional challenges for modern medicine.