Sci-tech

Scientists create safer pig organs with goal of transplants for humans

Scientists create safer pig organs with goal of transplants for humans

Organ transplants from pigs are a step closer, after the birth of piglets that have had harmful viruses in their DNA inactivated using CRISPR gene editing.

Scientists still need to overcome the problem of human bodies rejecting animal transplants - and the fact that human and pig organs are physiologically incompatible. Church said that the company aims to engineer pigs with organs that are very compatible with patients that taking anti-rejection drugs would no longer be necessary.

The most genetically modified animals in existence have been created to help end a shortage of organs for transplant, say USA researchers.

Successful transplantation of tissues and organs from animals to man - known as xenotransplantation - has been a goal of modern medicine for 20 years.

A year ago in the US, there were 33,600 organ transplants with another 116,800 on waiting lists, according to the US Health Resources and Services Administration.

"Porcine organs are considered favorable resources for xenotransplantation since they are similar to human organs in size and function, and can be bred in large numbers", the researchers wrote in a study published Thursday in the journal Science. "Many previous works have demonstrated that the immunological incapability can be alleviated through tailoring the pig genome".

Dr. George Church of the Harvard group now says the first pig-to-human transplants could occur within two years.

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Human patients have received heart valves, skin or pancreas cells from pigs, but not full organs.

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

"There's a big gap between organ supply and organ demand", he said.

"We're talking about some dramatic advances and literally happening week by week, but they can keep going". In this latest work, scientists are working specifically with pig organs. In a lab dish the pig viruses infected human cells, and those infected cells were able to infect other human cells that had not been directly exposed to pig cells.

"The viruses are particularly troubling", said Prof Church.

From about 200-330 embryos per sow transferred across to 17 sows, they produced 37 piglets, of which 15 remained alive up to four months. The entire process of transplant saves many lives, but every time, there is a shortage of organs as people are not actually willing to donate their organs. There are few cases where Gene Editing worked really well and recently scientists have eliminated the genetic abnormality in an embryo, using the same.

British expert Professor Ian McConnell, from Cambridge University, said the research was a "promising first step".


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