Pigs may hold key

Gene edit­ing could un­lock safe new trans­plant source

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — Sci­en­tists seek­ing to make pig or­gans safe enough to trans­plant into humans have used gene-edit­ing tech­nol­ogy to clone piglets that lack a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous retro­virus, ac­cord­ing to a study re­leased on Thurs­day.

The break­through, ac­cord­ing to au­thors of the study pub­lished in the jour­nal Science, could help pave the way for trans­plan­ta­tion of whole pig or­gans into humans, with­out fear of pa­tients be­ing in­fected with the pig retro­virus. But other hur­dles re­main.

Trans­plants from pigs could of­fer a new po­ten­tially life­sav­ing al­ter­na­tive for pa­tients di­ag­nosed with or­gan fail­ure and no other vi­able treat­ment op­tions. A short­age of avail­able hu­man or­gans has led sci­en­tists to study the pos­si­bil­ity of an­i­mal donors to close the gap.

About 20 peo­ple die each day in the United States while await­ing an or­gan trans­plant, ac­cord­ing to the United Net­work for Or­gan Shar­ing.

The lat­est experiment was con­ducted by sci­en­tists at the Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts-based com­pany eGe­n­e­sis. They used a tech­nol­ogy known as CRISPR that works as a type of molec­u­lar scis­sors, trim­ming away un­wanted parts of a genome.

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. The em­bryos were im­planted into nor­mal sows, and the mother pigs later gave birth to the cloned piglets.

The clones, which were born with­out the retro­virus, will be mon­i­tored for longterm ef­fects from the pro­ce­dure.

“This re­search rep­re­sents an im­por­tant ad­vance in ad­dress­ing safety con­cerns about cross-species vi­ral trans­mis­sion,” Luhan Yang, co-founder and chief sci­en­tific of­fi­cer at eGe­n­e­sis.

“Our work fun­da­men­tally ad­dressed the risk of crossspecies vi­ral trans­mis­sion in xeno­trans­plan­ta­tion,” he said, call­ing it “an im­por­tant mile­stone”.

A vi­able source

Pigs have long been seen as a vi­able source for or­gan trans­plants to humans be­cause their or­gans are sim­i­lar in size. Sci­en­tists have specif­i­cally stud­ied the po­ten­tial for trans­plant­ing hearts, kid­neys, liv­ers and lungs from pigs.

Sci­en­tists in decades past ex­per­i­mented with trans­plant­ing chim­panzee or­gans into hu­man pa­tients but turned their fo­cus to pig or­gans in­stead af­ter find­ing them to be more suit­able donor can­di­dates.

One key re­main­ing ob­sta­cle is how to pro­duce pig or­gans that, once trans­planted, will not pro­duce an im­muno­log­i­cal re­jec­tion in hu­man pa­tients — an is­sue also un­der study by eGe­n­e­sis sci­en­tists, the com­pany said.

The pa­per was also au­thored by re­searchers from Har­vard Univer­sity and China’s Zhe­jiang Univer­sity, Yun­nan Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity, Third Mil­i­tary Med­i­cal Univer­sity and Re­search In­sti­tute of Shen­zhen Jinx­in­nong Tech­nol­ogy Co as well as Den­mark’s Aarhus Univer­sity.

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