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Pig organ transplants in humans move one step closer

11 August 2017

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.

To overcome this, researchers used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique to inactivate all the PERVs in a porcine primary cell line and generated PERV-inactivated pigs through somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Researchers have always anxious about PERVs in pig-to-human transfers.

These edited cells were then developed into embryos and grown into genetically identical piglets.

"This is the first publication to report on PERV-free pig production", Yang, who is chief scientific officer at Egenesis, said in a news release. It may be years before enough is known about the safety of pig organ transplants to allow them to be used widely.

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For two decades researchers have been trying to safely harvest the organs for humans, which are similar in size and function to our own. This adds to the growing number of transplants that are already in relatively widespread use in medicine (heart valves, skin grafts for burn patients, etc.). Large porcine organs, which will likely require immune-suppressing drugs to keep the patients' bodies from attacking them, might pose a greater risk of PERV transmission.

In January, scientists created a human-pig chimera (an embryo that essentially combines the cells from a human with that of a pig). This makes it possible for organs from pigs to be transplanted into humans in the future. "I think that such innovation is required to tackle as challenging a problem as xenotransplantation".

The oldest pigs are almost 5 months old, or adolescents; 15 remain alive.

Egenesis' strategy is to remove the PERVs via gene editing.

Thanks to a life-science company's confirmed ability to create pigs completely free of a potentially infectious virus, we're closer than ever to delivering human transplant organs from pigs. The retroviruses, which are passed on through hog generations, have never proven to transmit to humans-no human PERV disease cases have ever been reported, even in patients who have received pig tissue transplants.

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Piglets cloned from the genetically modified cells were found to be free from all Pervs.

Xenotransplantation is a procedure that aims to use animals to meet the need for healthy new organs.

Researchers soon discovered that pig organs are covered with carbohydrate molecules that mark the organs for immediate destruction by human antibodies. "But the use of animal organs such as pig kidneys and hearts is not without serious ethical and biosecurity concerns".

More than 100,000 people need an organ transplant in the US. This doesn't mean that pig organs are ready for humans just yet, but the study, published today in Science, raises hopes that the technology is finally ready to make animal organs fit for people.

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Pig organ transplants in humans move one step closer