National / Science & Health

Japan to lift ban on creating human organs in animals

JIJI, Kyodo

The government is expected to approve basic research on growing human organs in animals after a science ministry panel reached broad agreement over the issue.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will likely revise relevant guidelines as early as the next fiscal year, which starts in April.

Currently, Japan permits the injection of cells, such as human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), into fertilized animal eggs. In a report compiled Monday, the panel of experts approved the transplantation of the resulting embryos into the uteruses of animals, as well as the delivery of the resulting offspring. Animals such as pigs are being considered for the procedure because the sizes of their organs are close to those of humans.

According to the report, a strict management system should be put in place to oversee the research.

Given Japan’s current ban on these kinds of studies, some Japanese researchers have conducted their experiments overseas where such research has been underway for some time.

The report says such research should be allowed if the need arises and when there is a rationale on scientific grounds.

Creating human organs in animals could help address the shortage of organs for transplants. Also, it is hoped that creating animals that can develop human diseases could aid research into the development of new medical treatments for humans.

The panel also approved research to produce human brain cells, eggs and sperm, but it maintained a ban on the creation of animals with high cognitive abilities similar to humans.

Ethical questions, such as whether it is proper to use animals to produce organs, will likely remain.

The ministry had been discussing a change to the existing guidelines since the government’s bioethics committee allowed such basic research in 2013.