Gene-Editing Breakthrough Spurs Hope for Transplanting Pig Organs to Humans!

Dear Commons Community,

In November 2012, I posted on this blog about scientists manipulating genes in animals to make improvements in neural performance, strength and agility, among other augmentations.

Earlier this week, a major advance was reported that helps open the door to organ transplants from animals as researchers have created gene-edited piglets cleansed of viruses that might cause disease in humans.  The experiments, reported on Thursday in the journal Science, may make it possible one day to transplant livers, hearts and other organs from pigs into humans, a hope that experts had all but given up. As reported:

“If pig organs were shown to be safe and effective, “they could be a real game changer,” said Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer at the United Network for Organ Sharing, a private, nonprofit organization that manages the nation’s transplant system.

There were 33,600 organ transplants last year, and 116,800 patients on waiting lists, according to Dr. Klassen, who was not involved in the new study. “There’s a big gap between organ supply and organ demand,” he said.

Dr. George Church, a geneticist at Harvard who led the experiments, said the first pig-to-human transplants could occur within two years.

The new research combines two great achievements in recent years — gene editing and cloning — and is unfolding quickly. But the work is novel and its course unpredictable, Dr. Klassen noted.

The idea of using pigs as organ factories has tantalized investigators for decades. Porcine organs can be the right size for human transplantation, and in theory, similar enough to function in patients.”

While fraught with ethical challenges, this type of research will become common in the years to come and offer new options in how we treat disease.

Tony

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