Saturday, January 16th, 2021

Chinese Scientists Genetically Engineer Monkeys to be Autistic

Published on January 31, 2016 by   ·   No Comments

Genetically engineered monkeys


In a controversial study that has been slammed by animal rights groups, scientists in China have engineered autistic macaques using a human “autism gene” that has been linked to autistic symptoms. The study hopes to find a treatment for the poorly understood disorder that can be severely debilitating for humans.

The engineered monkeys behave in similar ways to humans afflicted with autism, showing symptoms such as making repetitive gestures, being anxious and having poor social interaction skills. This means they can potentially be used as an animal model for researching and experimenting with possible cures for autism.(1)

What is autism?

Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are both complicated disorders that limit brain development. There are varying degrees to the symptoms that humans can show, but generally these include difficulties with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication problems and repetitive behaviors.

ASD is also associated with intellectual disabilities, problems with motor coordination, low levels of attention and physical health issues. Surprisingly however, some sufferers actually excel in mathematics, art or music.(2)

It is thought that autism first affects sufferers during early brain development, with the most obvious symptoms not emerging until a child is between two- and three-years-old. Medical professionals believe that, with earlier intervention, outcomes can be improved – and various charities and groups are funding research into effective ways to diagnose patients earlier.

Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that one in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum – which has increased 10-fold over the past 40 years and is more common in boys than girls. Worldwide, tens of millions of people are affected by the disorder.

Are monkeys the answer?

For years, scientists have been studying mice with autism-like symptoms and have found disappointingly few answers in terms of how to solve the problem in humans. This has been put down to the fact that mice have extremely different brains from humans, lacking a prefrontal cortex which is considered to be where some disorders are centered.(3)

The Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences have therefore opted to use genetically engineered monkeys for their latest study, with hopes of finding a way to reverse the symptoms. Genetically altered monkeys have been used for studies before, mostly in China, and questions are being asked as to whether these monkeys will really be able to shed any light on human autism.

Although the monkeys show behaviors associated with autism, some scientists are arguing that we cannot call the genetically altered monkeys “a model” because some typical symptoms are absent. It is possible that all scientists have accomplished is some very unhappy, potentially crippled monkeys that are cognitively stunted and will live a life under clinical experimentation.

China and Japan are both investing a great deal of money into studying monkeys in a bid to find answers to common human brain disorders, and if they are successful, they could obtain a clear advantage over the U.S. in the brain research field.(4)

But is it all worth it? Modern science has definitely found cures for the previously “incurable” and is saving lives every day – but it also seems to have a complete disregard for the natural balance of the planet.

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