An expert panel assembled to review stem cell research on nonhuman primates has concluded that implanting or grafting human stem cells into their brains could alter their moral status.

In the most recent issue of Science, the panel makes recommendations for minimizing the odds of such experiments altering the primates’ cognitive and emotional capabilities and hence their moral status.

“We quickly realized that a fundamental issue was whether such experiments might unintentionally alter the animals’ normal cognitive capacity in ways that could cause considerable suffering,” says Ruth Faden, director of the Phoebe R. Berman Bioethics Institute at The Johns Hopkins University.

Human stem cells are being grafted into the brains of nonhuman primates as a step towards using them to treat such conditions as Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The panel agreed it was unlikely that grafting human stem cells into the brains of nonhuman primates would alter their abilities in major ways, but felt strongly that the risk was real and too ethically important to ignore.

More here.