Following in the footsteps of the recent tissue-engineering breakthrough where a human ear was successfully grown on the back of a mouse, scientists at one of the US' leading Bio-Medical institutions have flipped the process entirely to grow mouse organs on humans.
Experts at MRT, Massachusetts successfully managed to cultivate a complete set of murine reproductive apparatus on the forearm of a human male. Dr Jason Girbon, an ex-veterinarian and now chief supervisor of the trial had high hopes for the future of the technology: "We now have the ability to grow mouse genitals on human hosts using only a few single cells, and with a time frame of only a couple of weeks. Assuming we can now adapt the technology to grow genitals for any animal, the possibilities are endless in terms of helping animals who have been injured or 'fixed'".
Indeed, canine trials are already promising with a 34 year old man showing good progress in supporting the scrotum replacement of a Labrador under his armpit. However, there are some implications arising from the technology both now and in the future, as Dr Girbon is quick to admit: "Unfortunately the nature of how we isolate the cells means that we are unable to grow the testes and penises as separate entities, but we rarely see cases where both need replacing on the animal. Current FDA rules prohibit us from either replacing existing reproductive parts that are functional, or disposing of unwanted parts. Thus we have an enormous space issue in terms of cataloguing various testes and penises in cold storage at our institution. This is only going to get worse when we start work for one of our most generous research funders - the horse racing industry".
The ground-breaking research has already proved to be a attractive prospect for those strapped for cash as well. Hundreds are now lining up to receive monetary rewards for acting as human hosts. This isn't hard to imagine, given that the scientists are prepared to pay $10/gram of tissue they grow. When considering a rodent or small dog, this represents a nice weekend vacation, but future plans for larger animals mean people could make a fortune: "We have to pay people well to act as subjects, and rightly so" adds Girbon, "but hosts must not underestimate how hard the process will be. After all, eventually we want to progress all the way to elephants, meaning a host may have to grow the equivalent of a sack of potatoes and a rolled up carpet on their person, leaving them likely wheelchair bound during the process, and heavily disfigured".
The ultimate goal of the research is of course to allow the growth of human genitalia on animals, but Dr Girbon thinks this is still a long way off: "The breathtaking complexity of growing the human scrotum anywhere but in the womb is the major primary hurdle. In addition, there are also likely to be issues in convincing someone to accept a transplant knowing full and well that their tackle was cultured on the forehead of say, an Orangutan".
As always, protest groups and government legislations against the new technology are only a few steps away from possibly shutting the whole project down. Such measures have been recently focussed after rumours emerged that eventually there would be plans for "buffet style" genital galleries where punters can select their tackle from the host animals as easy as buying a car. Only time will tell what becomes of the research, and whether it will be in safe and moral hands.