Scientists want debate on animals with human genes

Source: Reuters

A mouse that can speak? A monkey with Down’s Syndrome? Dogs with human hands or feet? British scientists want to know if such experiments are acceptable, or if they go too far in the name of medical research.

To find out, Britain’s Academy of Medical Sciences launched a study Tuesday to look at the use of animals containing human material in scientific research.

The work is expected to take at least a year, but its leaders hope it will help establish guidelines for scientists in Britain and around the world on how far the public is prepared to see them go in mixing human genes into animals to discover ways to fight human diseases.

“Do these constructs challenge our idea of what it is to be human?” said Martin Bobrow, a professor of medical genetics at Cambridge University and chair of a 14-member group looking into the issue.

“It is important that we consider these questions now so that appropriate boundaries are recognized and research is able to fulfill its potential.”

Using human material in animals is not new. Scientists have already created rhesus macaque monkeys that have a human form of the Huntingdon’s gene so they can investigate how the disease develops; and mice with livers made from human cells are being used to study the effects of new drugs.

But scientists say the technology to put ever greater amounts of human genetic material into animals is spreading quickly around the world — raising the possibility that some scientists in some places may want to push boundaries.

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