And while pigs’ organs are close to humans’ in terms of anatomy and physiology, medicine hasn’t yet reached the point where pig-to-human organ transplants are a viable option.
But new gene-editing research shows we may be closer to using animals as human organ donors. The study – published late last year in Science – focused on a new gene editing technique that removed some of the roadblocks to pig-to-human organ transplants.
“Basically, this whole field has been in the doldrums for 15 years,” lead researcher George Church told Science. “There’s been kind of a few true believers that had it on life support. But I think this changes the game completely.”
Pig tissue and valves have been transplanted into humans, but not entire organs. That’s because of PERVs – or porcine endogenous retroviruses – which exist in the pig organ and could be harmful to a human host.
Church’s study used gene editing to remove all traces of the retrovirus from the pig DNA. The researchers used a gene editing technique known as CRISPR, which designed a guide RNA that isolated and eradicated all 62 of the PERV sequences from the DNA of pig kidney cells.
With PERV eliminated, researchers in the field of xenotransplantation may have one less hurdle to deal with. But Church told Science that removing the same DNA sequence from a genome multiple times as different from targeting several unique genes.
“We’re not convinced that what we did is generalizable,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we can now change 62 different genes easily.”
Animal Biotech is proud to play a role in this kind of research. For more than 20 years, we’ve worked with biomedical experts in need of porcine cadaver materials and live pig models. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your next project.