A team of scientists in Oregon have announced the birth of a rare monkey, which they have termed the “chimeric monkey.”
Scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center created the chimera monkey, stitching together genetic material from six parents. By successfully implanting these genetically mixed rhesus monkey embryos into mothers, the scientists say that have now produced the first example in primates.
Until now, rodents have been the primary creatures used to make chimeras, a lab animal produced by combining two or more fertilized eggs or early embryos together. The chimeras have tissues and organs made up of cells that come from each of the contributing embryos.
“We need to go back to basics. We need to study not just cultured embryonic stem cells but also stem cells in embryos. It’s too soon to close the chapter on these cells,” said the study’s lead researchers. “If we want to move stem cell therapies from the lab to clinics and from the mouse to humans, we need to understand what these primate cells can and can’t do. We need to study them in humans, including human embryos.”
The monkeys were born from mixtures of very-early stage embryonic cells, suggesting that human embryonic stem cells may have developmental differences that could also produce similar results. The research is also thought to open the door for cloning primates using embryonic cells.
Scientists who know of the research said it was the breakthrough that they had all been waiting for because, until now, there was a growing feeling that there might be some insuperable barrier to creating cloned embryos from adult primates.
Scientists in South Korea reported in 2004 that they had created the first cloned human embryo, but it was discovered in 2006 that the study’s main author, Hwang Woo-suk, had committed fraud. The Oregon team, working with a group in China, has so far produced about 100 cloned embryos that have been transferred into around 50 female macaques, but none has resulted in a full-term pregnancy.
The breakthrough is sure to heighten the cloning controversy, and it comes as Oregon lawmakers are set to open the 2012 legislation session. The state has been at the center of the debate over cloning laws in recent years. Oregon State Representative Donna Nelson (R-McMinnville) put forth a measure in 2007, pushing for a ban on human cloning.
“Cloning human life under any circumstances crosses an ethical line from which science can never turn back,” said Representative Nelson at the time. “If we don’t take a stand now, if we don’t draw that ethical line clearly, we risk a future where new human beings are created for the sole purpose of harvesting organs or medical experimentation. This is an affront to the dignity of human life.”
The Oregon National Primate Research Center is one of the eight National Primate Research Centers in the United States. The center notes that its “mandate as a Center is to provide Nonhuman Primate (NHP) resources for the very best scientific programs, both within the Oregon Health & Science University community and beyond.”