Studies Show Pigs May Help Transplant Patients Live Longer

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With today’s advanced technologies and medical breakthroughs, scientists believe that pigs may help transplant patients in getting a replacement for their diseased internal organs.

Scientists believe pigs may help transplant patients soon.

In its early stage of experimentation, researchers from the University of California, Davis are developing embryos that contain both pig and human cells with the hope of creating organs to help address the global shortage of organ donors.

Government statistics show that an estimated 22 people die in the United States every day while waiting for organ transplants.

Like a situation plucked out of a sci-fi movie, the scientists spearheading this study admit that today’s human knowledge and technology may soon turn this into reality.

The project is undertaken through a strategic collaboration between the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the United States’ Defense Department, together with the UC- Davis team headed by Pablo Ross and scientist Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California.

The scientists are taking human stem cells from skin or hair merged with the pig’s embryo and injects it into the pig’s uterus.

The embryo is allowed to mature for a few weeks for scientists to determine if the procedure worked, however the pregnancies were terminated after 28 days and the cell remnants were studied and analyzed.

The scientists are hopeful that they soon may get to the point of creating human-animal hybrid organs by combining two scientific breakthrough methods in gene-editing technology and stem cell biology.

They, however, were able to remove a section of an animal’s DNA like the pancreas, so that the pig’s embryo will not identify any information it needs to make that particular organ.

This is where the scientists believe stem cells come into play, when the cells are injected into the embryo the adult stem cells will start to create a pancreas and since embryos do not have immune systems, they would not be able to reject or kill the foreign cells.

They are hoping that their research in developing these embryos that are part human and part animal- which they call chimeras- may be able to save lives and treat a wide range of diseases.

One theory for these chimeras is that it could pave the way for animals to be bred with human organs and used for transplant to terminally-ill patients.

However, bioethicists and scientists have mixed reactions with majority that it has crossed the line.

“You’re getting into unsettling ground that I think is damaging to our sense of humanity,” according to Stuart Newman, a professor of cell biology and anatomy at the New York Medical College.

The tests are intensely sensitive that the National Institutes for Health recently imposed an indefinite suspension in funding these experiments as officials continue to explore the ethical issues raised regarding the experiments.

One of the biologists involved in the experiment claimed that these chimeras are not being developed for them to create monstrous creatures, but are aimed at developing solutions with a biomedical purpose.

The NIH may soon announce how they would be able to handle future requests for funding experiments of this nature.

The researchers are using gene-editing processes to develop the interspecies experiment like removing the gene that pig embryos need to produce a pancreas and working under an elaborate microscope, a small hole is created by laser in the embryo’s outer membrane and injects a lab-synthesized molecule to delete the pancreas gene.

After the DNA is edited, another hole is created and a human induced pluripotent stem cell is inserted into the pig’s embryo and just like human embryonic stem cells, they can develop into any kind of cell in the body, which researchers hope that the human stem cells could replace the void in the pig’s embryo to develop a human pancreas.

This gene editing process reduces the risk of rejection of the new organ, but for the embryo to develop an organ a chimera needs to be placed inside the womb of adult pigs.

They are still uncertain, however, as to the long-term effects of this process and what other side effects it may cause, as well as the bio-ethic principles that they may encounter as a result of the experiments.

But the researchers do hope that someday pigs may help transplant patients live longer.

Image Credit: Human organs grown in pigs may help transplant patients, scientists say – CNN

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