July 15, 2005


Ethicists Offer Advice for Testing Human Brain Cells in Primates (NICHOLAS WADE, 7/15/05, NY Times)

If stem cells ever show promise in treating diseases of the human brain, any potential therapy would need to be tested in animals. But putting human brain stem cells into monkeys or apes could raise awkward ethical dilemmas, like the possibility of generating a humanlike mind in a chimpanzee's body.

No such experiments are planned right now. But in a paper today in the journal Science, a group of scientists and ethicists is advising researchers to exercise care with such experiments, particularly if they should lead to a large fraction of a chimpanzee's brain's being composed of human neurons. [...]

Neural stem cells, the source cells that build the brain, might be introduced into an adult human's brain to replace cells that are lost in Parkinson's disease. Trying such a therapy first in animals would show how well the cells integrated themselves in the brain. Dr. Faden's group considers it unlikely that the adult brain of a monkey or ape would be significantly altered by human cells.

But the earlier that human cells are introduced in an animal and the closer the species is to humans, the higher the risk of some significant shift toward humanlike cognition. If human neural stem cells were inserted into the embryo of a chimpanzee, they might construct a significant part of the brain. "We couldn't rule out the possibility that certain experiments could potentially alter the cognitive or emotional status of the animal in ways that would be problematic from an ethical point of view," Dr. Faden said.

Gee, you mean if we make them in our image they will be endowed with dignity and entitled to moral consideration?

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 15, 2005 7:15 PM

So don't use a whole chimp, just chimp brain tissue.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 15, 2005 7:29 PM

Besides, by your own previous arguments, these chimps could never be human, no matter how many brain cells we stuff into their skulls, nor how they may perceive the world.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 15, 2005 7:39 PM

Yes, just as we aren't God.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2005 7:44 PM

Clearly the word ethics doesn't mean what I thought it meant.

Posted by: AML at July 15, 2005 9:45 PM

While we're at it, we don't we create new ape servants. What could happen?

Posted by: David Cohen at July 15, 2005 11:04 PM

dc: excellent idea!

Posted by: cornelius at July 16, 2005 1:55 AM

All this assumes the typical reductionist/materialist viewpoint that simply introducting human brain cells (are they really different from any other primate neural cells?) will create a different mental species. I say do the experiment and don't be surprised at the null result.

Posted by: jd watson at July 16, 2005 4:42 AM

Ape servants are a bad idea. Take my word for it.

Orrin's the guy who rooted for Dr. Otto Hesslein in Escape From the Planet of the Apes.

Posted by: Governor Breck at July 16, 2005 7:25 AM


I was hoping to be the first one to make a "planet of the apes" reference.

NOW we know how it REALLY happened.

"THE BASTARDS, they finally did it"

Posted by: BB at July 16, 2005 9:30 AM