Transplants of pig organs into humans possible with CRISPR

In a scientific breakthrough, researchers have edited the genes of piglets to make their organs safer for transplant to humans.
By Cliff Mooneyham | Aug 14, 2017
In a scientific breakthrough, researchers have edited the genes of piglets to make their organs safer for transplant to humans.

Details of the experiments are published in the journal Science.

A major reason scientists stopped pursuing the notion of transplanting pig organs into humans was the discovery in the late 1990s that hidden within pig organs were retroviruses capable of infecting human cells, a report by The New York Times said.

In the new study, Harvard geneticist Dr. George Church and his team used the new gene-editing technology CRISPR to remove the viral DNA from the piglets' genomes and then cloned the edited cells. Finally, the pig cells were implanted into eggs and the embryos implanted in sows.

Dr. Church is founder of the company eGenesis, which he hopes will sell gene-edited pig organs for human transplants.

Another problem with pig-to-human transplants is that pig organs are enveloped in carbohydrate molecules that cause human antibodies to attack and destroy them. But progress is being made on that front as well.

Dr. David Cooper, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and his colleagues combined cloning and gene-editing to create pig organs without carbohydrates on their surfaces. So far, monkeys and baboons with transplanted carbohydrate-free hearts and kidneys have survived for over a year with no problems.

According to Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer at the private, non-profit United Network for Organ Sharing, there were 116,800 people on waiting lists for organ transplants last year while only 33,600 transplants were performed.

If pig organs could be used for human transplants, it "could be a real game changer," said Klassen, in the Times report, adding, "There's a big gap between organ supply and organs demand."

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