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Genetically modified pigs raise hopes for transplanting animal organs into humans

13 Agosto 2017

SCIENTISTS have taken a "significant step" towards transplanting pig organs into people after removing a threatening virus from the animal's DNA.

So far, 37 such piglets have been born. "We have a pig we are very confident we can make work for kidney transplants", Tector said.

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

The WHO says while animals are a potential source of high quality, readily available live organs, xenotransplantation carries risks, especially the spread of known or unknown diseases.

The world has a big organ shortage problem: nearly 120,000 people are now waiting for a transplant in the U.S., and more than 20 people die each day waiting for a new organ. Pigs have been a prime candidate as involuntary organ donors since theirs are about the same size as those of humans. "Many previous works have demonstrated that the immunological incapability can be alleviated through tailoring the pig genome". They are now repeating the process to engineer male pigs, which Church says he doesn't expect to be any more complicated.

George Church, a Harvard Medical School geneticist who co-founded eGenesis and is a co-author of the paper, said piglets would need to be roughly four months old for their organs to be used for transplants.

The scientists created pig genes that lacked the problematic retrovirus, then used a cloning technique to produce pig embryos, according to a statement from eGenesis. Knocking out three in particular could protect pig organs from being attacked by the human immune system, he said; lab macaques that received kidneys from the pigs have survived as long as 499 days.

Pigs have always been considered an ideal animal for incubating organs that can be transplanted into humans.

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

"The viruses are particularly troubling", said Prof Church.

The researchers then showed they were able to inactivate all 62 copies of porcine retroviruses from the pig epithelial cells, which safely eliminated virus transmission to the human embryonic cells.

The oldest pigs are almost 5 months old, or adolescents; 15 remain alive. "Colleagues keep asking me when we're going to do it". So, they turned to the flashy new gene editing tool, CRISPER-Cas9, to slice up and deactivate all instances of PERV genes in a pig cell line.

Researchers at eGenesis claim this is an exciting and promising step, according to the BBC.

In 2014 Margaret Mann, a retired carer from West Sussex, became the first patient in the world to have a heart valve made of pig tissue.

Genetically modified pigs raise hopes for transplanting animal organs into humans