Scientists Hit Breakthrough In Quest To Transplant Pig Organs Into Humans

Illustration by James Bareham  The Verge

Scientists have used gene-editing technology to knock out pig diseases that could spread to humans, a move that could bring us closer to transplanting organs from that animal into sick people.

According to Dr. David Klassen, Chief Medical Officer at the United Network for Organ Sharing, previous year saw 33,600 organ transplants, with another 116,800 people listed on various lists waiting for sutiable organs.

If pig organs were shown to be safe and effective, "they could be a real game changer", said Klassen, who was not involved in the new study.

Some challenges remain, notably engineering organs that aren't rejected by the human immune system, as illustrated in the top panels of this eGenesis-supplied illustration. The pigs, the oldest of which are four months old, will also allow. But in 1998, Fishman and his colleagues discovered that hidden in pig DNA were genes for viruses that resembled those causing leukemia in monkeys. Alternatively, human cells populating the germline of an animal could enable human genes to pass onto offspring.

After that, Yang explained, it will need to test how the human immune system responds to the organs and modify them so they aren't rejected, creating what she referred to as "pig 2.0", featuring "advanced immune compatibility". "I think that such innovation is required to tackle as challenging a problem as xenotransplantation". The ability to use a pig heart, lungs or other body parts could shore up the shortage and save numerous lives.

Transplantation from one species to another - xenotransplantation - holds "great promise", the American and Chinese research team believes.

More news: Trump's harsh language on North Korea has little precedent, experts say

The team then implanted the PERV-free embryos into surrogate sows and demonstrated the absence of PERV re-infection, initially in fetuses and finally in recently born piglets.

But, this breakthrough, by boffins at biotech company eGenesis, could prove a major turning point. But one of the largest safety concerns has been the fact that most mammals including pigs contain repetitive, latent retrovirus fragments in their genomes - present in all their living cells - that are harmless to their native hosts but can cause disease in other species.

They successfully transplanted hearts and kidneys from those pigs into monkeys and baboons. Recent gene editing advances, however, are rejuvenating interest in pig-to-human transplants.

Next, the company needs to make sure it can consistently replicate virus-free pigs, which it's already well on its way to doing.

Many patients may prefer a human organ, Cooper acknowledged, but that is not always possible.

Every year, around 500 people across Britain die while waiting for a transplant. As a result, Church had wondered if they play an essential role in the pig's survival and whether the animals could develop properly without them.

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