Scientists Hit Breakthrough In Quest To Transplant Pig Organs Into Humans

CRISPR slices virus genes out of pigs, but will it make organ transplants to humans safer?

While scientists had long hoped to be able to transplant animal organs to humans in need, they had always run up against the problem of so-called PERV cells.

"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.

Some challenges remain, notably engineering organs that aren't rejected by the human immune system, as illustrated in the top panels of this eGenesis-supplied illustration. Between 2012 and 2016, there was a almost 20 percent increase in the number of transplants that happened in the United States, and that number is only expected to increase as the population grows older, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Researchers have made a significant breakthrough in the area of organ transplants, and it brings us remarkably close to being able to safely transplant organs from other species into humans.

But that soon could become an issue of the past.

And the viruses could then be transmitted from infected human cells to other healthy human cells.

When researchers grew pig cells next to human embryonic kidney cells in the laboratory, these viruses - known as retroviruses - spread to the human cells.

Researchers in the United States used the precision gene editing tool Crispr-Cas9 combined with gene fix technology to deactivate 100% of Pervs in a line of pig cells.

These baby pigs were the first to be born without innate viruses in their DNA. Theoretically, the genetically modified pigs could be used to harbor organs meant for human patients, a process called xenotransplantation.

"Since xenotransplantation involves long-term intimate cell-to-cell contact the potential for the species jump of retroviruses for the entire life-time of the transplants is a very real one". They then cloned those edited cells and developed an embryo. The viruses the researchers targeted, which dwell in pig DNA and can be passed down during transplantation and infect human cells, have been another concern. The research is basically a "safety check", says Pablo Ross, a geneticist at the University of California, Davis, who did not take part in the study.

They successfully transplanted hearts and kidneys from those pigs into monkeys and baboons. Luhan Yang, cofounder and chief scientific officer at eGenesis, says her team wanted to deactivate this group of viruses to see if the pigs would develop normally.

Next, the company needs to make sure it can consistently replicate virus-free pigs, which it's already well on its way to doing.

Dr. David Cooper, at UAB, and his colleagues, including Tector, have used gene editing and cloning to make pigs without the carbohydrates on the surfaces of their organs.

An average of 22 Americans die each day waiting for an organ. "If you could help them with a pig organ, wouldn't that be wonderful?"

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