Definition of Chimera

Chimera: In medicine, a person composed of two genetically distinct types of cells. Human chimeras were first discovered with the advent of blood typing when it was found that some people had more than one blood type. Most of them proved to be "blood chimeras" -- non-identical twins who shared a blood supply in the uterus. Those who were not twins are thought to have blood cells from a twin that died early in gestation. Twin embryos often share a blood supply in the placenta, allowing blood stem cells to pass from one and settle in the bone marrow of the other. About 8% of non-identical twin pairs are chimeras.

Many more people are microchimeras and carry smaller numbers of foreign blood cells that may have passed from mother across the placenta, or persist from a blood transfusion. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is also contributing to the number of human chimeras. To improve success rates, two or more embryos are placed in the uterus so women who have IVF have more twin pregnancies than usual. More twins mean more chimeras.

In Greek mythology, the Chimera was an awesome fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. The Chimera was killed by the hero Bellerophon mounted, in most versions of the tale, on Pegasus, the winged horse.


Last Editorial Review: 8/28/2013

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