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Genetically engineered pigs could soon become organ donors for humans


The existence of the virus has been a major stumbling block preventing the development of genetically engineered pigs to provide kidneys and other organs for transplant into human patients. Crucially, however, of the 37 piglets born from 17 sows, all were PERV-free. Experts have long looked at pig organs as having the potential to make a dent in the massive organ transplant waiting lists.

Yang believes that CRISPR can accomplish what previous approaches have not: make multiple, simultaneous changes in pig DNA so that the animals' organs work, and work safely, in people. The process of successfully transplanting organs from animals to humans is known as xenotransplantation, which creates a sustainability organ supply.

Past year in the US, there were 33,600 organ transplants with another 116,800 on waiting lists, according to the US Health Resources and Services Administration. The organs are almost the same size and function similarly enough to human organs that scientists think it could work.

But making 25 cuts throughout the pig's genome led to DNA instability and the loss of genetic information.

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Now they might have even more use for humans.

Harvard professor George Church founded a company, eGenesis, in hopes of selling the genetically altered pig organs.

Their work, documented in the United States 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.

"We want to create a world where there is no organ shortage", Yang said.

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"We're talking about some dramatic advances and literally happening week by week, but they can keep going".

Pigs are pretty great animals: They're adorable, and unless you're a vegetarian, you probably find them delicious. The waiting list for organ transplants is now about 120,000 individuals long, which is twice as long as it was in 1999. In a lab dish the pig viruses infected human cells, and those infected cells were able to infect other human cells that had not been directly exposed to pig cells.

Today, 15 are still alive with ages ranging from one to four months. 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. Using CRISPR-Cas9, we inactivated all the PERVs in a porcine primary cell line and generated PERV-inactivated pigs via somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Researchers at eGenesis claim this is an exciting and promising step, according to the BBC. "But the use of animal organs such as pig kidneys and hearts is not without serious ethical and biosecurity concerns".

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