This Startup Is Making Pig Organs Safe for Human Transplants

Illustration by James Bareham  The Verge

Illustration by James Bareham The Verge

"In parallel with getting rid of the viruses, we have been making the pig organs so that they will not be rejected by the human recipient", Church told Fox News. When they tested tissues from the 37 piglets born so far, all were PERV-free.

"This research represents an important advance in addressing safety concerns about cross-species viral transmission", Luhan Yang, co-founder and chief scientific officer at eGenesis, said in a statement.

If xenotransplantation - using organs from other species - works, then it has the potential to alleviate long waits for a transplant.

Animals such as apes or pigs could be genetically engineered to produce tissues that don't advertise the fact they're foreign, providing not only a more generous supply of organs but a safer option as well.

The idea of solving the human organ shortage with pigs has tantalized surgeons for decades.

There were 33,600 organ transplants in the U.S. previous year, and 116,800 patients on waiting lists, according to Dr Klassen, who was not involved in the new study.

Researchers believe pigs are a good candidate for organs to be transferred to humans as their organs are a similar size and they can be bred in large numbers.

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Dr. George Church, a geneticist at Harvard who led the experiments, said the first pig-to-human transplants could occur within two years.

A team of worldwide science is able to genetically modify the piglets so that their organs are compatible with transplantation on the man, according to an article published Thursday in the american journal Science.

By sucking up the virus-cleared genetic material and injecting it into the emptied nuclei of pig egg cells, the researchers created embryos devoid of PERVs. Pigs are the biggest animals that have undergone CRISPR, he says, and he wants to see what happens when they are allowed to "grow to a ripe old age" of over 20. 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.

Pigs are pretty great animals: They're adorable, and unless you're a vegetarian, you probably find them delicious.

Pig organs are the same size as human organs and function pretty much the same way but pig to human transplantation has always been an elusive goal for researchers due to fear of activating dormant viral diseases in the pig's cells.

"The viruses are particularly troubling", said Prof Church. Some of the animals died before birth or soon after, but the team ended up with 15 living piglets, the oldest of which survived up to four months after birth.

Scientists pursuing this goal argue that the few thousand pigs grown for their organs would represent just a small fraction of the estimated 100 million pigs killed in the USA each year for food.

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