Gene Editing Used to Eliminate Viruses in Live Pigs

Lena Tucker
August 14, 2017

A team of U.S. researchers has create the "most genetically modified animals in existence" in a bid to make viable pig-to-human organ transplants a reality.

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. "We have a pig we are very confident we can make work for kidney transplants", Tector said.

Ultimately, these genetically altered pigs could be raised specifically for the harvesting of organs for transplant.

There were 33,600 organ transplants past year, and 116,800 patients on waiting lists, according to Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer at the United Network for Organ Sharing...

Scientists have edited the pig genome to deactivate a family of retroviruses. "It really is going to be dramatic how it could affect many human lives", he added.

Researchers saw this first hand in the new study, led by Harvard geneticist George Church and Luhan Yang, a bioengineer and president of eGenesis, a biotech start-up she and Church co-founded. Scientists from biotechnology company eGenesis published their work in the journal Science on Thursday.

Now they have taken the genetic material from such cells and, using a similar technique to the one used to clone Dolly the sheep, inserted it into pig eggs. Eventually, Church says, the company wants to engineer pigs with organs so compatible with humans that patients will not need to take anti-rejection drugs.

Tests demonstrated that pig cells could infect human cells with the virus in the laboratory.

As it is now, receiving an organ transplant in many cases requires waiting for a donor to die. Pig heart valves are already being routinely transplanted into humans, some diabetes patients have transplanted pig pancreas cells and pig skin is often used for treating patients with severe burns.

He said: "The viruses are particularly troubling". Some of the animals died before birth or soon after, but the team ended up with 15 living piglets, the oldest of which survived up to four months after birth.

The eGenesis scientists used the CRISPR-Cas9 version of the genome editing tech to slice off the PERV-causing genes in porcine embryos.

The pigs are going to save us.

Until further progress is made you can help by signing up to the NHS Organ Donation register.

Genetics expert Professor Darren Griffin, from the University of Kent, said: "This represents a significant step forward towards the possibility of making xenotransplantation a reality. But the use of animal organs such as pig kidneys and hearts is not without serious ethical and biosecurity concerns".

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