Sci­en­tists gene-edit piglets, bring­ing or­gan trans­plants to hu­mans closer

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Sci­en­tists have suc­cess­fully edited the ge­netic code of piglets to re­move dor­mant viral in­fec­tions, a break­through that could eventually pave the way for an­i­mal-to­hu­man or­gan trans­plants. Their work, doc­u­mented in the US jour­nal Science on Thurs­day, could save lives by re­duc­ing or­gan donor wait­ing lists that have risen over the years, partly thanks to bet­ter road safety. There are some 117,000 peo­ple on the US trans­plant wait­ing list alone, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data, while 22 peo­ple die each day wait­ing for an or­gan.

Har­vard Univer­sity ge­neti­cists Ge­orge Church and Luhan Yang, to­gether with a team of Dan­ish and Chi­nese col­lab­o­ra­tors, placed edited em­bry­onic cells into a chem­i­cal cock­tail that en­cour­aged growth and over­came the de­struc­tive ef­fect in­her­ent in the mod­i­fi­ca­tion process. They then used a stan­dard cloning tech­nique to in­sert the edited DNA into egg cells that were placed into a sur­ro­gate mother.

“Be­fore our study, there was huge sci­en­tific un­cer­tainty about whether the pig [pro­duced af­ter this edit­ing] is vi­able,” Yang said, adding the team had now pro­duced 37 piglets free of the porcine en­doge­nous retro­viruses (PERVs). “If this is cor­rect, it’s a great achieve­ment,” said vi­rol­o­gist Joachim Den­ner of the Robert Koch In­sti­tute in Ber­lin, an ex­pert in the retro­viruses. It is not clear whether PERVs would in­fect hu­mans who re­ceive pig or­gans, but lab stud­ies have shown hu­man cells can be in­fected by the viruses in a dish.

Hu­mans can al­ready re­ceive pig heart valves and pan­creases, but sci­en­tists have long sought to make their en­tire or­gans, which grow to around hu­man size, avail­able for har­vest. But the goal of xeno­trans­plan­ta­tion re­mains some way off. Re­searchers still need to edit pig genes to avoid trig­ger­ing a hu­man im­mune sys­tem re­ac­tion and pre­vent toxic in­ter­ac­tions in blood. Th­ese steps “are prob­a­bly more chal­leng­ing” than re­mov­ing the dor­mant in­fec­tions, said Yang.—AFP

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