Medicine

United States scientists closer to pig-to-human organ transplants

United States scientists closer to pig-to-human organ transplants

Therefore, the first pig to human organ transplantation could still be years away.

To get around this problem, the researchers used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to snip out the viral DNA from the pigs' genomes.

'The safe use of pig organs such as kidneys in xenotransplantation has been seen as an approach which could be used to overcome the shortage of donor organs in human transplantation.

Professor Darren Griffin of the University of Kent, who was not involved in the study, said the finding represents "a significant step forward towards the possibility of making xenotransplantation a reality". "Our animal is probably the most [genetically] modified animal on the Earth", says Luhan Yang, co-founder and chief science officer of eGenesis, the Cambridge, Mass. -based start-up that led the research.

'The problem is that all pig cells carry cancer viruses embedded in their DNA.

eGenesis' pigs are the first to be free of a group of pig-specific viruses that make their organs unsuitable for human transplant.

They then implanted these into surrogate mother sows, which went on to give birth to pig clones - the first to be free of PERVs.

"There are other issues that will limit the clinical application of xenotransplantation other than these viruses", says Mohiuddin, referring to the immune response the body generates against a transplanted animal organ.

But other researchers say the risk of infecting humans with pig retroviruses is not that clear and that, on balance, unnecessarily editing the pig genes would add to the complexity and cost of a xenotransplant.

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Some patients with diabetes have received pig pancreas cells, hidden in a sort of sheath so the immune system will not reject them. These PERVs have the potential to infect humans if a pig organ is transplanted into a person, possibly causing tumors or leukemia.

Dr. David Cooper, at UAB, and his colleagues, including Tector, have used gene editing and cloning to make pigs without the carbohydrates on the surfaces of their organs. Unless the pig organs are edited to also be more compatible for human bodies, it'd be too unsafe to transplant them into people.

The team plans to make pigs that are altered to a greater extent, to make them more immunologically similar to people.

PERVs have been shown to infect human cells and previous research has shown the horizontal transfer of PERVs among human cells.

The study was partly funded and conducted by the biotech company eGenesis.

However, there's no way those pig organs could actually be transplanted just yet, Ross says.

But, Cooper noted, the few thousand pigs grown for their organs would be a small fraction of the 100 million pigs a year that are killed for food in the United States.

Many people with failing hearts, livers and kidneys are saved by donated organs from people who have died (or even some who are still living, in the case of kidneys), but there are not enough to go round. "If you could help them with a pig organ, wouldn't that be wonderful?"


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