(CNN)Scientists may be a step closer to growing human organs in animals.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is considering lifting a moratorium that blocked funding for experimentation involving human stem cells and animal embryos. The agency proposed the new policy on Thursday.
This could give scientists the opportunity to receive federal funding for controversial chimera research that could help create life-saving organs like kidneys and pancreases for transplant patients.
In its proposal, the NIH writes it will establish a committee to provide input on certain human-animal chimera research proposals. The agency announced that is was considering a revision in its former policy, established in 2009, because technology and knowledge in the field of chimera research has rapidly advanced in the past few years.
“There is clear interest and potential in producing animal models with human tissues or organs for studying human development, disease pathology, and eventually organ transplantation,” the NIH explained.
Growing life-saving organs
Currently, there’s a worldwide shortage of donor organs. Twenty-two people die every day in the United States while waiting on transplant lists.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis and other institutions have been trying to tackle this problem by growing human organs inside animals such as pigs and cows. This mixture of human and animal DNA is known as chimera, a term that refers to a monstrous hybrid creature from Greek mythology.
The animal rights group PETA is opposed to the research.
“Scientists shouldn’t be supremacists. If it’s wrong to test on a #chimera, it’s wrong to test on ALL animals!” it said on its Twitter feed Friday.
In addition to growing human organs, this research could potentially produce treatment options for people with chronic and life-threatening diseases like diabetes, scientist Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, explained in June.
As of right now, human organs have not been successfully grown inside of animals because the embryos have been terminated after 28 days.
Belmonte said the only way to know if it’s possible is for him and other scientists to have the funding to do the research.
The ban on funding for chimera research remains in place while an NIH steering committee considers the new policy. The agency is also seeking public comment on the issue.