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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Is it Ethical for Scientists to Create Nonhuman Primates with Brain Disorders?

Carolyn P. Neuhaus
The Hastings Center
Originally published on September 25, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Such is the rationale for creating primate models: the brain disorders under investigation cannot be accurately modelled in other nonhuman organisms, because of differences in genetics, brain structure, and behaviors. But research involving humans with brain disorders is also morally fraught. Some people with brain disorders experience impairments to decision-making capacity as a component or symptom of disease, and therefore are unable to provide truly informed consent to research participation. Some of the research is too invasive, and would be grossly unethical to carry out with human subjects. So, nonhuman primates, and macaques in particular, occupy a “sweet spot.” Their genetic code and brain structure are sufficiently similar to humans’ so as to provide a valid and accurate model of human brain disorders. But, they are not conferred protections from research that apply to humans and to some non-human primates, notably chimpanzees and great apes. In the United States, for example, chimpanzees are protected from invasive research, but other primates are not. Some have suggested, including in a recent article in Journal of Medical Ethics, that protections like those afforded to chimpanzees ought to be extended to other primates and other animals, such as dogs, as evidence mounts that they also have complex cognitive, social, and emotional lives. For now, macaques and other primates remain in use.

Prior to the discovery of genome editing tools like ZFNs, TALENs, and most recently, CRISPR, it was extremely challenging, almost to the point of prohibitive, to create non-human primates with precise, heritable genome modifications. But CRISPR (Clustered Randomized Interspersed Palindromic Repeat) presents a technological advance that brings genome engineering of non-human primates well within reach.

The article is here.
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