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Major step towards growing human organs in pigs
11 August 2017, 12:54 | Melissa Porter
Scientists Hit Breakthrough In Quest To Transplant Pig Organs Into Humans
Dr. David Klassen told The New York Times that if pig organs were safe and effective to transplant into humans "they could be a real game changer". Researchers in the study used the gene-editing technology to effectively cut out a porcine endogenous retrovirus (PERV) commonly found throughout pig bodies.
There are now more than 100,000 people in the United States awaiting organ transplants, and only 20 to 30 percent of them will ever receive one, she said. eGenesis, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is entirely focused on furthering xenotransplantion as a viable option. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates 117,000 men, women and children are now awaiting organ transplants in the U.S. alone.
The company, which raised $US38 million in March and is cofounded by Harvard geneticist George Church and 31-year old Luhan Yang, wants to knock out certain genes in pigs that could cause diseases or organ rejection in humans, making it possible for those pig organs to be transplanted. These edited cells were then used to create embryos that were implanted into sows and the birthed piglets were born virus-free.
CRISPR holds enormous potential to wipe out diseases in both humans and animals, upend our food system and has many other applications we likely don't see yet.
"This is the first publication to report on PERV-free pig production", Yang, who is chief scientific officer at Egenesis, said in a news release.
The eGenesis team, having produced the first piglets free of active PERVs, is working toward combining the safety benefits of PERV-free pigs with additional gene editing addressing immunological response to increase organ immune and functional compatibilities.
Experiments showed pig cells could infect human cells with Pervs in the lab.
"We don't know that if we transplant pig organs with the viruses that they will transmit infections, and we don't know that the infections are risky", Fishman said. "I think that such innovation is required to tackle as challenging a problem as xenotransplantation".
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. In theory, this should make transplanted organs less prone to attack by a recipient's immune system.
Next, the company needs to make sure it can consistently replicate virus-free pigs, which it's already well on its way to doing. "But the use of animal organs such as pig kidneys and hearts is not without serious ethical and biosecurity concerns".
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