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Gene-Editing Advance May Allow Pig Organ Transplants to Humans
11 Agosto 2017, 03:40 | Martinez Canez
One day these little piggies could give you more than just bacon Luhan Yang Egenesis
According to the NHS, about 6,500 are on the waiting list for an organ, and past year almost 500 people died while waiting for a transplant.
George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, revealed that genetically modified pig organs could be used in transplants to human - as the NHS battles to find suitable donors.
A main concern with pig-to-human organ transplantation is not only immunological compatibility, but also the risk of cross-species transmission of porcine endogenous retroviruses, or PERVs.
This newborn is a pig, and it's the first to be born with dozens of genetic changes that could enable scientists to turn swine into a source of organs for human transplants, Yang and her colleagues reported on Thursday in Science.
Pig heart valves have already been used in humans for several years, but are treated beforehand so they contain no living cells.
In the new report, scientists detail how they took pig cells and edited them using the gene-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 to target and hinder their virus-related DNA. For decades, scientists have thought animals could solve the problem. The scientists are now conducting long-term studies to see the impact of the gene editing. The retroviruses don't harm pigs, but would make xenotransplants, cross-species transplants, impossible. "The real breakthrough will be when people are moving around for years with pig organs, only then will we really know that it's safe and effective".
For the study, the researchers identified 25 genomic sites where PERVs present in the genome of pig fibroblast cells, and using CRISPR they deactivated all.
To produce piglets, the researchers then used a standard cloning technique: They inserted the DNA-containing nuclei of these edited cells into egg cells taken from the ovaries of pigs at a Chinese slaughterhouse.
They successfully transplanted hearts and kidneys from those pigs into monkeys and baboons.
"I'm a strong believer that science can help us improve health care if we look holistically for a solution", says Yang, lead author on the paper and chief science officer of eGenesis, the biotechnology company funding advancements in the research.
Society might have a broad acceptance of consuming them in the form of pork and bacon, but the idea of stitching pig tissues into our bodies is a whole other ball game.
Other teams, including Tector's at Alabama, are working along a similar path, hoping to get the pig parts ready to be tested in the first people within the next two to three years. These grew into piglets that were genetically identical and did not have the viruses.
Aside from contracting rare diseases from pig organs, there is the ever present threat of organ rejection-even when the transplanted organ originated in another human.
Yang said that such genome damage is not a problem for the team, as they can select undamaged cells to use for the creation of embryos.
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