Researchers have successfully removed one of the biggest barriers in using pig organs as an alternative to human organs for transplants. This breakthrough brings xenotransplantation one step closer to reality, which could address the shortage of organs for human transplants.
Pigs have similar organs to humans, which is why their organs are considered to be a possible alternative to human organs. However, their genes have a virus that could prove to be fatal to humans. This is what the latest study was able to address. Scientists affiliated with Harvard Medical School have successfully removed what is called the porcine endogenous retroviruses or Pervs by using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique, as reported by the Independent. This experimental biomedical technique allowed the scientists to produce living pigs that are free of Pervs.
According to Newsweek, there are about 30,000 patients who undergo transplant surgery each year. In the United States, there is one person added to the waiting list every 10 minutes, and 20 patients on the list die every day. Because there are not enough people who are willing to donate organs, especially their heart, lungs or kidneys, scientists have been trying to find other ways to address the shortage. One way they have been working on for decades is to do successful animal-to-human organ transplants.
Scientists make an edit in the pig genome, with the goal of one day being able to transplant pig organs into humans https://t.co/0En7ZyxPyC
— CNN (@CNN) August 11, 2017
While the latest research was able to remove the threat of the pig virus, there are still other concerns in transferring pig organs into humans. The Independent added that there are significant ethical issues in using pig organs, including the harms and benefits a human could get from receiving a pig heart. Ethicists would have to see more evidence that xenotransplants using pig organs are safe.
— ANADOLU AGENCY (ENG) (@anadoluagency) August 10, 2017
Still, the success of gene editing in removing the retrovirus in pigs makes xenotransplant promising. Biologist Luhan Yang, the lead author of the study, believes that science could help improve health care by looking for solutions for the obstacles. This potential organ resource could help save the lives of millions of patients suffering from organ failure, Yang added. She promised that their team will continue to engineer the Perv-free pig strain to make xenotransplant safe and effective.
[Featured Image by PPL Therapeutics via BWP Media/Getty Images]