Scientists closer to cross-species transplant

Harvard geneticist George Church

As the viruses could infect human tissue, scientists were then able to use gene-editing technology known as Crispr to remove the viruses. The resulting piglets were free from PERVs.

Speaking to the New York Times, Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer at the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit organization that manages the U.S. transplant system, said the study "could be a real game changer".

What did the research involve?

A scientific advance using genetically edited piglets could lower the fatality rate and make using pig organs, similar to our own, a common practice.

Whether or not the virus would actually cause diseases in humans is unknown, but they are considered an unacceptable risk.

In January, scientists created a human-pig chimera (an embryo that essentially combines the cells from a human with that of a pig).

Gene Editing, as mentioned above is an experimental technique which utilizes bacteria snippets and allows it for DNA segment modification, like changing the gene misspellings, contributing to mutations. Back in 2013, she published a paper on CRISPR saying that it can be used effectively to alter the immune system of the human beings and till 2015, she eradicated 62 PERV virus copies from the pig cell line.

This was temporarily halted in 1998, when a group of researchers discovered concerns with PERVs in pigs.

With modified genes, the scientists created PERV-inactivated pig embryos and transferred them into surrogate sows to produce clones, in the same fashion as Dolly the sheep was created. "We don't know that if we transplant pig organs with the viruses that they will transmit infections, and we don't know that the infections are unsafe", he tells the Times.

"We don't know what the functionality of those elements is in the genome", Yang said, although the fact that piglets generated from edited cells have not shown any obvious negative effects up to 4 months of age is encouraging.

But after using the gene-editing technology CRISPR, there is no evidence that any of the piglets were infected with porcine retroviruses, according to the report.

Church, a Harvard University geneticist who led the experiments, said the first pig-to-human transplants could take place within two years, potentially moving toward closing the gap between organ supply and demand.

A number of experts responded to the news - highlighting both the positives and negatives.

Darren Griffin, a genetics professor at the University of Kent, said: "This represents a significant step forward towards the possibility of making xenotransplantation a reality". It is followed by livers, hearts and then lungs.

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