By Ethan Weston
August 10, 2017
Soon, people who need an organ transplant may go to their local pig farm.
OK, it probably won’t be quite that easy. But new research has found that with some gene editing, we might soon be able to use pig organs in humans.
Yes, apparently that’s possible. The organs are nearly the same size and function similarly enough to human organs that scientists think it could work.
The idea has been around for a while. But in the late ’90s, the discovery of a type of retrovirus in pig DNA complicated matters.
Researchers showed that the retrovirus could spread from pig cells to humans in laboratory settings. And if it did spread, there were worries it would cause immunodeficiencies or tumors. But doctors have used some pig parts — like heart valves or pancreas cells — as replacements in humans before and there was no evidence of infection in those cases.
Now, scientists have used CRISPR to remove the retroviruses from the DNA in a cell. They then placed that cell into an egg, which developed into an embryo, which eventually became piglets. And they seem healthy, even with edited DNA.
The piglets that developed were genetically identical to the pig that supplied that first cell. So not only did they manage to edit a pig’s genome, but they also created clones. Science is pretty cool.
There’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure using pig organs in human bodies is actually safe. But the lead researcher in the study told The New York Times the first transplants could happen within two years.