ALDF Opens New Frontier for Animal Personhood as Scientists Create Human-Animal Chimeras

Posted by Christopher A. Berry, ALDF Staff Attorney on May 15, 2015


Chimpanzee HARE5 on left, humanized HARE5 on right, showing faster and bigger growth of the brain.

What are the legal implications for splicing human cells into nonhuman animals? When does an animal become a person—how much human material is required? Where do we draw the legal line? Cutting-edge research in “chimera” science blurs traditional morality and raises critical new questions. And human protection laws may provide the clues we need to solve this puzzle.

Many people would be surprised to discover that for more than a decade scientists have been creating human-animal chimeras by grafting human stem cells into animal bodies. This results in purely human cells replacing some of the animal parts. The effect of this process cannot be totally predicted, but is largely determined by the type of human stem cell, where the stem cells are grafted, and the youth of the animal. Scientists have also been creating transgenic human-animal creatures where human DNA is added to an animal’s genetic sequence. A traditional use of these chimeric and transgenic creatures involves grafting human immune cells into mouse bodies because this is thought to produce more accurate results in biomedical research that uses the mice to study human diseases. But a string of recent revolutionary new research involves humanizing animal brains, resulting in chimeras and transgenics with significantly enhanced cognitive abilities.

In one study from 2013, researchers implanted human glial progenitor cells—a type of brain cell that supports neurons in the brain and contributes to cognitive function—into mice brains, causing a significant increase in mouse learning ability and change in behavior. In another example from 2014, researchers replaced an animal gene with the human FOXP2 gene which is understood to be strongly associated with human language ability. Remarkably, the researchers found that the mice with the humanized FOXP2 gene learned certain information faster than their non-humanized litter mates. Other published experiments have resulted in human glial progenitor cells completely overtaking mice brains, and the human HARE5 gene causing mice to grow significantly enlarged brains. More dramatic experiments are already underway.

Shockingly, there are no laws generally regulating this type of research involving animals with humanized and augmented intelligence. There is no special oversight, no prohibition against creating apes or monkeys with humanized brains, and no requirement that any animals that might eventually exhibit human-like intelligence receive human-like rights. Thus, mere self-restraint holds researchers back from conducting research with even more moral ambiguity than the research already being done. A team that created chimeras where human glial progenitor cells completely overtook mouse brains said that they considered doing the experiment with monkeys but simply “decided not to” because of the ethical issues.

To fill this regulatory void, ALDF filed a formal rulemaking petition with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking that agency to enact regulations under the Public Health Services Act. The Public Health Services Act imposes a duty on HHS to protect the rights of human research subjects in all federally-supported research. 42 U.S.C. § 289. These protections include informed consent, assessment of risks and benefits, and equitable selection of subjects. 45 C.F.R. §§ 46.101, et seq. Specifically, ALDF’s rulemaking petition asks HHS to enact regulations that (1) require special oversight of all research involving human-animal chimeras and transgenics, and (2) require that animals exhibiting human-like intelligence as a result of those experiments be granted all protection normally given to human research subjects. HHS has until December 2017 to respond to ALDF’s petition.

While the adoption of ALDF’s rulemaking proposal helps promote the welfare of human-animal chimeras and transgenics by requiring additional oversight, the real value is in obtaining personhood status for those animals exhibiting human-like intelligence. As it stands now, the only member of the animal kingdom with personhood status is the human species. By compelling the legal system to recognize that biologically manipulated animals with human-like intelligence and at least a drop of human DNA ought to receive the same rights as human research subjects, we can build a bridge between rights for humans and rights for all the other animals.

12 thoughts on “ALDF Opens New Frontier for Animal Personhood as Scientists Create Human-Animal Chimeras

  1. Shelley Waltman says:

    This is sickening, DNA wasn’t meant to be shared between species. They’re creating monsters.

  2. Marsha Bomar says:

    Frankenstein stuff – yes I even feel all animals should have protections.

  3. Toni Barraclough says:

    Animals have no say in these experiments and it is wrong to use them for sick and twisted research. They should be curing cancer and saving species that are going extinct not playing mad doctor.

  4. Tiffany says:

    This is so wrong!
    1st off, animals shouldn’t have to wait to be “human” to have protection.
    2nd, a lot of animals are smarter then humans because they don’t live to create pain and torture like humans do. These humans are stupid as hell and should not be reproduced into anything. Don’t mess with nature and physics like this.

  5. Robert Monk says:

    Frankenstein… Searching for financial profit… Give all animals rights

  6. tara thomas says:

    I thought personhood was granted to a ape or chimpanzee recently? Why would we, as humans, want to give animals our brain/body strength, doesn’t that cause more problems than it solves? Seems so wrong, going against the very grain of being a human being. It seems in the same vein as bestiality, and torture of the animals. SICKENING.

  7. Juan Gomez says:

    Rebecca Ballard and Jason Eberl have written about the ethics of chimeras. Rebecca presented on this topic at Michigan State back in 2007 or so.

  8. cmk says:

    I hope the results of the tests will lead to a human/animal that is more intelligent than the deranged animals who are now engaged in these types of ‘creation’

  9. sharon chang says:

    mankind has lost his mind!

  10. Brawday says:

    Animals with human like intelligence may be a great threat to mankind. Animals can outcompete us in many ways. If they gain human-like intelligence they are likely to become formidable competitors.

    All animals should be treated with humanity and this includes not making a living cocktail of their parts.

  11. Hey people we need these human chimps if the minimum wage hits $20.00 per hour.

  12. Katherine Jennings says:

    Stem cell research should have been scrapped the moment some sociopath with a PhD got the idea to attempt to clone living breathing genetic replicates of ANY species. It is morally and ethically reprehensible to think that anyone be authorized to carry out such atrocities…just proposing such ought to raise a battery of national discussions, & forums open to the public. . Our legislators are doling out federal research grants funded by the people but without public input.
    How can mutant bio engineered genetic abominations lead to medically viable treatments for illness in natural humans? How can DNA be mathmatically reverse engineered to adapt treatments- found useful in anti human, altered species…back to purely and safely applicable treatment of human conditions. From the time some overaching physicists brought about the nuclear age, the world populace has increased in knowledge fast enough to know that science has brought only the irreversible …imminent destruction of our planet, and every natural self sustaining environment.they are those who lived this life as though God didn’t exist and this is it…I wonder what mind blowing ideas they will have on judgment day. Me? I should be content believing, for if I am wrong…I suffer nothing in the end. God help and forgive us all.

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