Last year 429 patients died while on the waiting list for an organ transplant because of shortages in donations. This week in Science research has been carried out which could help to solve this major issue. The answer lies in the most unlikely of places …. pigs.
Professor George Church from Harvard University conducted the study and in particular addresses the issues of rejection and infection. Prof Church used CRISPR technology, a precise method of cutting DNA, to remove viruses from the Pigs DNA. These viruses, known as porcine retroviruses, have been shown in lab studies to infect humans. Therefore the elimination of all 62 copies from the pig genome was a huge success that could be pivotal in the ability to use pig organs for xenotransplantation (transplantation of animal organs into humans).
Professor Church also part owns a company which wants to develop modified pigs to grow organs. His discoveries have taken away the most complex issue in the field of xenotransplantation and has said that the ‘immune tolerance and getting rid of all the retroviruses’ now means there is a ‘clear path’.
Dr Sarah Chan, an expert from the University of Edinburgh, has described the work as ‘valuable’ but points out that there are other issues that need to be addressed. In particular the use of animal organs has many cultural and ethical issues.
So despite the study being a great step forward in the field of xenotransplantation, it is only the first in a long journey and so it is likely to be years before we see pig organs being used in transplants.