Recently, a baby girl with cancer was saved by a cell therapy untested in humans according to an article published in the New York Times. The girl, Layla Richards, had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer that “starts from the early version of white blood cells in the bone marrow” invading the blood and quickly spread to other parts of body. Although it is hard to say whether this girl was cured due to the short period of time (only a few months) in remission, she was rescued by a cell therapy, said Waseem Qasim, one of the doctors who treated the girl at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. “It is a remarkable outcome” because several conventional therapies did not work, such as chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and a new type of biotech drug, Dr. Qasim said.
However, there is an intense debate on whether the federal government should fund research on transplanting partly human organs or cells from animals to patients to treat illness.
There are two branches of cell therapy [organ transplantation]. One is legitimate and established, the other one is dangerous and raises ethical and moral questions. The first one is transplanting human cells [organs] from a donor to a patient; while the second one is injecting animal cells [organs] or partly human cells [organs] to treat illness.
In late September, the National Institutes of Health declared a moratorium on funding research which studies the combining cells or tissues (chimeras) or genetic information (hybrids) from partly human and partly nonhuman. NIH officials stated that the ethical and moral questions raised by this kind of research needed to be evaluated. Françoise Baylis, a bioethicist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, said that this early human chimera “would introduce inexorable moral confusion in our existing relationships with nonhuman animals, and in our future relationships with part-human hybrids and chimeras.” Moreover, Hank Greely, a bioethicist at Stanford University, said “this will somehow give the animal a human consciousness, human mental capabilities.”
However, there are very effective strategies that would alleviate the concerns discussed above, said Sean Wu, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University. Additionally, some prominent scientists worry this moratorium may hinder the development of this promising field of research, as a result, many patients may die from the shortage of this technology. “We don’t have enough organs for transplantation,” and “every 30 seconds of every day that passes there is a person that dies that could be cured by using tissues or organs for transplantation,” said Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor of gene expression at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Photo credit: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/06/business/a-novel-cell-therapy-untested-in-humans-saves-baby-with-cancer.html?ref=health&_r=0