March 17, 2018

Xenotransplantation: Pig Organs May Soon Be Transplanted Into Humans

14 August 2017, 01:46 | Ruben Fields

One day these little piggies could give you more than just bacon Luhan Yang Egenesis

Three piglets huddled together

The experiments, reported today in the journal Science, may make it possible one day to transplant livers, hearts and other organs from pigs into humans, a hope that experts had all but given up. But with a genome wiped of active viruses, the researchers produced 37 piglets that are PERV-free. Dr Luhan Yang, from biotech company eGenesis, which led the team, said: 'This research represents an important advance in addressing safety concerns about cross-species viral transmission'. Major religious groups have concluded that pig organs are OK for live-saving transplants, although some Jewish and Muslim leaders believe dialysis is sufficient for patients with renal failure.

Animals such as apes or pigs could be genetically engineered to produce tissues that don't advertise the fact they're foreign, providing not only a more generous supply of organs but a safer option as well. Ethicists would have to see more evidence that xenotransplants using pig organs are safe. There were 33,600 organ transplants a year ago in the U.S., and 116,800 patients on waiting lists and there are around one billion pigs in the world. "Many previous works have demonstrated that the immunological incapability can be alleviated through tailoring the pig genome".

At four months old-roughly the age the pig would need to be for its organs to be large enough to use in people-the animals seem perfectly normal, says George Church, a Harvard Medical School geneticist who co-founded eGenesis and is a co-author of the paper.

They then used a standard cloning technique to insert the edited DNA into egg cells that were placed into a surrogate mother.

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"We want to create a world where there is no organ shortage", Yang said.

Bruce Whitelaw, from the University of Edinburgh, told the Times: "This tells us we can use these wonderful tools to chop up the genome at multiple sites and it goes back together in the right way".

However, they have admitted that there are still huge issues ahead in the research as it is not yet known how to stop humans from rejecting pig organs. But removing the viruses is a big step. Once infected, these cells can pass the virus onto other cells. Two and a half years is far too long to wait for a kidney and far too many people die without ever receiving the transplant they need. In this latest work, scientists are working specifically with pig organs. Just last week, USA scientists were able to demonstrate they could successfully CRISPR out a faulty heart gene mutation in human embryos. This adds to the growing number of transplants that are already in relatively widespread use in medicine (heart valves, skin grafts for burn patients, etc.).

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