Scientists at Harvard university have used a gene modifying technique called ‘Crispr’ to make replacement human organs from pigs. Pig DNA will be modified to the extent that the host human will accept the donated pig’s organ without complications.
Prof George Church of Harvard University is finding a way to bypass the human immune system to accept the donated pig’s organ and put an end to the age old problem of insufficient human donors needed for organ replacements and longer life. The pigs will be genetically re-engineered to grow human acceptable organs. In some way the method could be described as vulgar by human and pig alike; In another way it shows the complicated world of nature where humans depend on pigs for their survival in the jungle of life.
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The early work, in the journal Science, aims to address concerns about rejection and infection by viruses embedded in pig DNA.
If successful, it could be an answer to the shortage of human donor organs.
Years more research is needed before genetically modified pigs could be bred to grow organs for people.
Crispr is a relatively new scientific tool that lets scientists snip and play around with the code of life – DNA.
Prof Church, from Harvard University, used it to inactivate a retrovirus present in the pig cell line.
This porcine endogenous retrovirus is potentially risky because it can infect human cells – at least in the lab.
In tests on early pig embryos, Prof Church was able to eliminate all 62 copies of porcine endogenous retroviruses from the pig cells using Crispr.
Next, he checked if the modified pig cells would still easily pass the retrovirus on to human cells. They did not, although there was still a small amount of transmission.
Prof Church says the discovery holds great promise for using animal organs in people – what doctors call xenotransplantation.
Prof Church, who part-owns a company that wants to develop modified pigs to grow organs, said: “It was kind of cool from two stand points.
“One is it set a record for Crispr or for any genetic modification of an animal, and it took away what was considered the most perplexing problem to be solved in the xenotransplantation field.
“With immune tolerance, that completely changes the landscape as well.
“These two things, immune tolerance and now getting rid of all the retroviruses, means we have a clear path.”
Dr Sarah Chan, an expert from the University of Edinburgh, said: “Even once the scientific and safety issues have been addressed, we should be mindful of the possible cultural concerns and societal impacts associated with more widespread use of pig organs for human transplantation.
“Nonetheless, the results of the study are valuable both as a proof of principle and a potential step towards therapeutic advances in this area of much-needed research.”
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