Pig Gene-Editing Tool May Allow Animal-To-Human Organ Transplants

Alan Olson
August 14, 2017

The research, reported in the prestigious journal Science, could make it possible to transplant pig organs such as the heart, kidney, liver and lungs into human patients.

"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", Dr Fishman said.

"I'm a strong believer that science can help us improve health care if we look holistically for a solution", says Yang, lead author on the paper and chief science officer of eGenesis, the biotechnology company funding advancements in the research. But for now, Church, Yang, and their team think their new pigs may "serve as a foundation pig strain, which can be further engineered to provide safe and effective organ and tissue resources for xenotransplantation".

EGenesis Inc is a United States biotech firm working on trying to make animal-to-human organ transplant safe and effective.

Such xenotransplantation would be one way to address the organ shortage of organs for transplant.

More than 117,000 Americans are now on a transplant wait-list and 22 people die every day awaiting a match, according to federal figures. Pigs have been a prime candidate as involuntary organ donors since theirs are about the same size as those of humans. But in the late '90s, the discovery of a type of retrovirus in pig DNA complicated matters. "There is so much desperation among people on transplant lists, and 20 a day are dying as they wait", said Dr. Adam Griesemer, a xenotransplantation researcher and transplant surgeon at Columbia University Medical Center.

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By using the same technology used to create Dolly the sheep, the new genetic information could be placed into a pig's egg to form embryos. The supply is way below the demand and the gap is only expected to grow wider.

According to the UNOS web site, there were 33,611 organ transplants in 2016 and 116,800 patients on waiting lists. Pig organs are particularly compatible for transplantation in humans. In a lab dish the pig viruses infected human cells, and those infected cells were able to infect other human cells that had not been directly exposed to pig cells. The unreliability of cloning means that, out of thousands of attempts, just 15 piglets remain alive.

Gene editing became less favorable for 54 percent of respondents if scientists used human embryos as test subjects in developing gene editing techniques, Pew found.

The pigs are going to save us.

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

Genetics expert Professor Darren Griffin, from the University of Kent, said: "This represents a significant step forward towards the possibility of making xenotransplantation a reality". In previous work, researchers have used these animals for transplanting heart valves and pancreas.

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