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Scientists hope the chimera embryos represent key steps toward life-saving lab-grown organs.
Science 28 June Vol , Issue A chimera is the mythological term given to animals that had other animals' parts. A lion with a snake for a tail was a chimera. People all over the world told tales of these fantastical beasts. An equally remarkable story is being told today in medical papers. Humans bear marks of chimerism, too.
Although their stolen body parts only come from other humans, the results can be dramatic. There was a case, not too long ago, when a blood test showed that a woman, and the children she had actually born, were not mother and child. This woman continued to undergo blood tests trying to prove that she was the mother of her own children, even when one such test showed that she was not the mother of the child she had just birthed.
Either this woman was undergoing some fairly advanced medical procedures on her own, or something was up.
Eventually it was found that this woman had had a fraternal twin. She didn't remember it, because it was while they were both basically blastocysts when that twin had ceased to be. Her twin had been absorbed into her, and the combined tissue created a composite body, despite having different DNA.
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A tissue sample taken from the woman's thyroid later showed that she was the children's biological mother. What if, rather than relying on a generous donor, you could grow a custom organ inside an animal instead? Thousands of people die every year for lack of transplantable human organs. In the past, human-animal chimeras have been beyond reach. Such experiments are currently ineligible for public funding in the United States so far, the Salk team has relied on private donors for the chimera project. Public opinion, too, has hampered the creation of organisms that are part human, part animal.
But for lead study author Jun Wu of the Salk Institute, we need only look to mythical chimeras—like the human-bird hybrids we know as angels—for a different perspective.
There are two ways to make a chimera. When scientists discovered stem cells, the master cells that can produce any kind of body tissue, they seemed to contain infinite scientific promise. But convincing those cells to grow into the right kinds of tissues and organs is difficult. Cells must survive in Petri dishes. Scientists have to use scaffolds to make sure the organs grow into the right shapes. And often, patients must undergo painful and invasive procedures to harvest the tissues needed to kick off the process.
However, it took Belmonte and more than 40 collaborators four years to figure out how to make a human-animal chimera.
Chimera (mythology) - Wikipedia
To do so, the team piggybacked off prior chimera research conducted on mice and rats. Other scientists had already figured out how to grow the pancreatic tissue of a rat inside a mouse. On Wednesday, that team announced that mouse pancreases grown inside rats successfully treated diabetes when parts of the healthy organs were transplanted into diseased mice.