Researchers from the Harvard Medical School have genetically edited pig cells so that they could potentially be used as transplants in human recipients.
U.S. scientists may have figured out a way to drastically reduce the wait time for organ transplants. No, they haven’t figured out a new method of growing a kidney from scratch. According to a report from Reuters, researchers have devised a new technique for editing genes that may allow doctors to implant pig organs into humans.
The study was recently published in the journal Science, and focused on a new use for the popular genome-editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9. This tool acts as a pair of scissors that can be programmed to trim away undesirable traits on a genome. In this case, researchers used the tool to snip harmful virus genes from pig organs to make them safe for human use.
Scientists have been eyeing pig organs as a solution to our country’s sometimes ridiculous transplant waiting list for some time. It makes perfect sense. Pigs share a significant amount of the same DNA as humans, and there is an abundance of extra organs from pigs used for meat. The miniscule genetic differences between swine and humans are the only thing keeping doctors back from dipping into the vast pool of potential organ donors.
Dr. George Church, a geneticist from Harvard Medical School, led a team of researchers that was able to simultaneously clip genetic material in 62 different locations on a pig’s genome. Previous attempts had only been able to snip just 6 locations at once.
The study is just the first step in making pig organ transplants a reality. While doctors were able to snip away viruses from the pigs’ cells, they still have yet to prove that these modified organs would in fact be safe for use in humans.
Despite the slow progress, Church is confident that one day pig organs will become a viable substitute for human organ transplants.
The study’s findings were presented at a workshop for the National Academy of Sciences on October 5. Some researchers are concerned with the ethical implications of using pig organs in humans, while others fear that the editing may cause unintended changes to the pig’s genome.