New technology could help create pig-to-human transplants

The litter had 37 piglets in all, and not one of them had traces of the Active Porcine Endogenous Retrovirus, or PERVs. That is a big step towards growing organs in animals.
By Cliff Mooneyham | Aug 15, 2017
A team of scientists working at the biotech company eGensis have successfully raised piglets that do not have the retrovirus that has been halting animal-to-human organ transplant, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

The litter had 37 piglets in all, and not one of them had traces of the Active Porcine Endogenous Retrovirus, or PERVs. That is a big step towards growing organs in animals.

For years, companies have sought to usexenotransplantation -- the process of putting animal organs in humans -- as a way to help those who cannot get the transplants they need. Currently, over 100,000 people in the U.S. need life-saving organs that they cannot get, and someone new is added to the list every 10 minutes.

However, moving organs across species is tricky. Not only are there many technical complications, but pigs also come with PERVs. The virus is quite deadly and has been one of the biggest obstacles in stopping past efforts towardsxenotransplantation. Without that, the process has become much more realistic.

"This research represents an important advance in addressing safety concerns about cross-species viral transmission," said study co-author Luhan Yang, co-founder and chief scientific officer of eGensis, USA Todayreports. "Our team will further engineer the PERV-free pig strain to deliver safe and effective xenotransplantation."

To create the pigs, the team used a genome-editing tool known as CRISPR to generate PERV-free embryos. From there, they implanted the unborn pigs to surrogate females who then birthed them.

The young pigs are currently four months old and have had no problems yet. Scientists will continue to monitor them to see if any long-term effects come up in the next few months. It is still too early to tell if this new technology will lead to widespread xenotransplantation. More studies need to be done before the process can reach its next step.

"We're talking about some dramatic advances and literally happening week by week, but they can keep going. And so the challenge is to do it right," said CBS medical contributor Davis Agus who was not involved int he study, according to CBS News."The challenge is someone not to change an embryo to make them taller, stronger, faster. The challenge is to do it to benefit human health in a positive way on a global sense."

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