Brussels, 14 Dec 2005
A new EU funded project, CHIMBRIDS, has been set up to analyse the scientific, ethical, philosophical and legal issues raised by the use of chimeras and hybrids in European and international research.
'Chimera' is the term used by the ancient Greeks to refer to a mythical creature with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. Other mythological chimeras included the minotaur (part man, part bull) and fauns (part man, part goat).
With the current advancement of biological and medical sciences, ethical fears have been raised in relation to experiments that mix cells tissue or organs from different organisms. Two different types of mixes can be distinguished. A hybrid is the product of breeding two different species, either via normal mating or in vitro fertilization, with the offspring having a mixture of genes from both parents. A chimera combines two genetically distinct tissue types within a single organism but with no genetic combination: the cells of two different organisms are simply housed together in the same body.
Although no precise and universal definition exists yet, participants on the CHIMBRIDS project define chimeras and hybrids as mixed creatures consisting of genetically different cells, tissues or organs. Mostly, chimeras are created artificially by transplantation. Strictly speaking, every person receiving a heart- or a kidney-transplant from another person is a chimera.
Such transplantations can also cross species boundaries, for example when heart valves from pigs are transplanted onto humans as a cure for heart disease. Another practical example where chimeras are created for therapeutic purposes is the insertion of human DNA into coli-bacteria in order to produce human insulin against diabetes. Furthermore, with a view to curing Parkinson's disease, experiments have been made involving the transplantation of non-human neural cells into human patients.
Another field of research is trying to tackle the constant lack of human organs for transplantation by creating transgenic animals with 'humanised' tissue for better transplantation results. New therapies or drugs could also be tested on transgenic animals instead of testing them directly on human patients, but it is still unclear whether the results would be adequately transferable.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this emerging area of research approach raises fundamental ethical and legal questions, and the development of guidelines for research practices and recommendations for decision makers are therefore considered indispensable in order to cope with the rapid progress of this field.
Addressing the questions raised by this new technology demands a multidimensional and all-embracing research effort, and the Commission believes this is better addressed at the international level. Experts from 15 EU Member States, Canada, China, Israel, Japan, Switzerland and the US have therefore been invited to participate in CHIMBRIDS. Funded with 600,000 euros under the Science and Society priority of the Sixth Framework Programme, the project is coordinated by the Institute for German, European and International Medical Law, Public Health Law and Bioethics of the Universities of Heidelberg and Mannheim (IMGB) in Germany.
CHIMBRIDS seeks to develop a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the fundamental problems in research on chimeras and hybrids through dialogue and exchange with scientists from the natural sciences, ethics, philosophy and jurisprudence, as well as with stakeholders from civil society.
The project will have three main objectives: to analyse emerging questions related to the blending of human being and animal, to link the rapid progress in scientific research in this filed with the development of basic ethical, philosophical and legal principles, and to bringing science and society closer together to stimulate an open debate on chimeras and hybrids within the European Research Area and abroad.