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After more than a decade of controversy, the United States is nudging towards approving research on human–animal embryos. Last week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) closed a month-long public consultation on ‘chimaera research’, and is widely expected to lift a moratorium that forbids federal funding for such work. Human–animal chimaeras are essentially research animals that contain transplanted human cells. Such biologically mixed animals have long been used as staple experimental systems in biomedical studies, including cancer and AIDS research. But, for some, adding human stem cells to animal embryos is a step too far — which is why the NIH imposed the moratorium, in 2015. Before then, it funded chimaeric embryo studies as long as they did not use primate blastocysts.

Chimaeric-embryo research has a vital role in basic and translational stem-cell science, so for the NIH to restore funding would be encouraging. The transfer of human stem cells into animal hosts can advance our understanding of human development and disease, and could eventually lead to the growth of transplantable human organs in livestock.

Still, the availability of federal funds does not guarantee that the research will proceed. Several states — including my own, Ohio — have raised the prospect of laws to ban such research. Institutional stem-cell review boards could still block projects, and hostile public opinion could again place future federal funds in jeopardy. Indeed, there are already signs that the NIH consultation has led to renewed protests against the research.

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