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Everything You Need to Know About Pig-to-Human Organ Transplants

The general shortage of human organ donors has led scientists to explore other options for human recipients, including pigs. Although pigs are often noted to be dirty and disgusting and most commonly bred for consumption, they are actually very intelligent creatures. With many countries lacking enough willing organ donors, they are giving more thought to harvesting organs from pigs.

As patients die waiting for an organ transplant, a team of international specialists is working on a way to make pig-human transplants, or xenotransplantation safe. Prior efforts have been somewhat limited due to concerns about pig organs transmitting diseases into human recipients.

The new efforts are focused on eliminating genetic factors that can causes viruses in humans. Gene editing has the potential to eliminate porcine endogenous retroviruses from DNA in pigs, making them a safe place to grow human organs. The existence of the condition has made growing organs, including kidneys safe to transplant. But new advancements may be one step closer to creating a new source of organ donation.

Dr. Luhan Yang, co-founder and chief scientific officer at the biotech company eGenesis explains, “This research represents an important advance in addressing safety concerns about cross-species viral transmission. Our team will further engineer the Perv-free pig strain to deliver safe and effective xenotransplantation.”

Although it is uncertain that pig organs could lead to diseases in human, the potential risk has so far been deemed to great to take.

“The problem is that all pig cells carry cancer viruses embedded in their DNA. These are known as endogenous retroviruses which, although normally silent, can be activated to become fully infectious for human cells when pig cells carrying these retroviruses are co-incubated with human cells.”

By eliminating the gene, the world could have a new source of organ donation for human patients.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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