May 17, 2009

Dr. Moreau outlawed in LA — Panel Votes to Outlaw Human-Animal Hybrids

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, human trajectories

U.S. News and World Report — May 12, 2009, by KEVIN McGILL

BATON ROUGE, La.—Combining human and animal cells to create what are sometimes called “human-animal hybrids” would be a crime in Louisiana, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, under legislation approved Tuesday by a state Senate panel.

Scientific researchers in some areas have tried to create human embryonic stem cells, which scientists say could be used to develop treatment for a variety of human ailments, by placing human DNA into animal cells. But such practices are controversial for a number of reasons.

Sen. Danny Martiny’s bill, approved without objection by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was designed to outlaw such practices. It defines and criminalizes various ways of making human-animal hybrids, including combining human sperm and an animal egg, combining animal sperm with a human egg, and the use of human brain tissue or neural tissue to develop a human brain in an animal.

The bill by Martiny, R-Kenner, goes next to the full Senate.

Attorney Dorinda Bordlee, an anti-abortion activist and an opponent of human embryonic stem cell research, said the bill would not stop common medical practices such as the use of pig valves in human heart surgery; nor would it prohibit research in which human brain cells are grown in mouse brains. The growth of a few thousand cells in a mouse brain would not violate the bill’s prohibition of a “non-human life form engineered such that it contains a human brain or a brain derived wholly or predominantly from human neural tissues,” Bordlee said.

The idea of using animal-human “hybrid” embryos drew fire last year in Britain as authorities pondered whether to let scientists try it. Opponents objected to mixing human and animal material and worried that such research could lead to genetically modified babies.

Another element of the argument: Regardless of whether animal cells are used, the creation of embryonic stem cells for research is opposed by some because it destroys the embryo, considered by some to be a human life.

A report earlier this year by researchers with Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., cast doubt on the effectiveness of using human DNA in animal eggs to make hybrid cloned embryos. The animal eggs don’t reprogram human DNA in the right way to generate stem cells, researchers reported.

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