The following comes from a January 27 MIT Technology Review article by Antonio Regalado:

A Spanish scientist working at the Salk Institute in California told Scientific American that Pope Francis personally blessed his cutting edge research to mix human cells into animal bodies.

Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a prominent stem cell biologist, is engaged in efforts to grow human tissue inside of farm animals such as pigs, sheep, and cows. This type of research is sensitive because scientists have to inject human stem cells into early-stage animal embryos, then try to grow the mixtures inside surrogate animals.

Much of Belmonte’s work occurs in collaboration with a team in the province of Murcia in his native Spain, country which is about 77% Catholic.

“Spain is a very Catholic country, so we had to go through the Pope. He very nicely said yes.” Belmonte told Scientific American. “Yes. The current Pope. So the Vatican is behind this research and has no problem based on the idea is to help humankind [sic]. And in theory all that we will be doing is killing pigs.”

While the Catholic Church has opposed research on human embryos it endorses evolution and generally takes a liberal view on scientific matters. In fact, the Vatican’s position on “human-animal chimeras,” as the mixtures are known, may be more liberal than that of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which in September instituted a ban on funding chimera research until it can weigh ethical questions associated with it.