When organs die, people die. And unfortunately, we don’t have an endless supply of organs floating around. But Scientists at eGenesis may have just found the mother load. By using ingenious gene editing, they have been able to create animals whose organs may be used in humans. The big problem has been viruses present in the animals, risking cancer and other problems, but this may be a thing of the past. It may soon be that animal to human organ transplant is commonplace.
Pigs may fill the organ gap
The gap between supply and demand in the organ market has always been a problem. Simply put, there are not enough donors, or transplants fail. Xenotransplantation – the transplant from one species to another, may help to solve this issue. So why pigs? Similarities in organ size and function, as well as a quick reproduction, are great reasons. However, the presence of porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERV’s) has been, until now, a spanner in works.
PERV’s may be capable of causing cancers and immunodeficiency illnesses such as HIV when introduced to humans. So far this has only been seen in labs, at the level of the microscope. But would you risk it? The Scientists at eGenisis certainly wouldn’t, and have come up with a solution. And it involves gene editing and cloning.
Getting PERV’s out of Pigs
Researchers were able to use the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to deactivate the PERV gene in adult pigs. These pigs were then cloned using cell samples. The next generation piglets produced were free of the PERV gene. This genetically engineered strain of pigs reduces the risk of infections and cancers spreading to human cells upon transplantation. The team of researchers is now working on obtaining organs for xenotransplantation from the PERV-free pigs.
Ethical and safety concerns still exist, but there may be a considerable number of patients whose reservations regarding xenotransplantation may be overcome once this method proves to be successful. Now, along with the rest of us, researchers are hoping that this xenotransplantation breakthrough can be the solution to the long-standing problem – that is organ demand outstripping supply. And with that, pigs may save lives.
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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing. All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice. Article proofed for publication by Dr Benjamin Janaway
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