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Genetically modified pigs as human organ transplantation source

Genetically modified pigs as human organ transplantation source”

The reality of pigs becoming human organ donors has moved a step closer after a breakthrough study successfully removed potentially hazardous viruses from the animals' DNA.

Scientists have for the first time eliminated a unsafe type of virus found in live pigs that could make it safe for potential organ transplants into humans.

Cloning often fails; most of the embryos and fetuses died before birth, and some piglets died soon after they were born. Eradicating PERVs makes porcine organs safer for human transplants.

These PERVs have the potential to infect humans if a pig organ is transplanted into a person, possibly causing tumors or leukemia.

Successful transplantation of tissues and organs from animals to man - known as xenotransplantation - has been a goal of modern medicine for 20 years. According to the NHS, about 6,500 are on the waiting list for an organ, and past year almost 500 people died while waiting for a transplant. This means that the researchers did not just manage to edit the genome of the pig.

The PERV family aren't the only pathogen in town, but they are among the most concerning.

George Church, a Harvard University geneticist and one of the study's lead researchers, told to New York Times, that the first transplants could take place in as little as two years, although more widespread use is expected to be several years away. Any pig organs fit for human transplant would need to be carefully genetically tweaked to preclude such a severe immune response. The supply is way below the demand and the gap is only expected to grow wider.

However, they have admitted that there are still huge issues ahead in the research as it is not yet known how to stop humans from rejecting pig organs.

According to the UNOS web site, there were 33,611 organ transplants in 2016 and 116,800 patients on waiting lists.

He said: "The viruses are particularly troubling".

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 United States each year for food.

Luhan Yang of Boston biotech firm eGenesis and colleagues have previously shown they could use the highly efficient gene-editing technique CRISPR to disable the PERVs in pig cells grown in a dish. Of those, 15 are still alive, and the oldest is four months.

The team plans to make pigs that are altered to a greater extent, to make them more immunologically similar to people.

Professor Ian McConnell, an expert in the field from Cambridge University, said the research was a "promising first step".

Pigs are already used in the xenotransplantation of the heart valves or of the pancreas.



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