Sunday, 22 October, 2017

Xenotransplantation - organ transplants from animals may soon be a reality

Pig and organ transplant surgery GETTYPig organs could be transplanted into human within years
Hannah Rogers | 12 August, 2017, 00:12

These PERVs have the potential to infect humans if a pig organ is transplanted into a person, possibly causing tumors or leukemia.

This laboratory study aimed to see whether it was possible to remove porcine (pig) retroviruses, which can infect human cells, from genetically modified pigs.

eGenesis said it has been able to create "dozens of apparently healthy pigs with no trace of PERV genes", by using the CRISPR technique. Those embryos were then implanted in sows, growing to fully-formed piglets, free of PERV.

Scientists began pursuing the idea of pig organs for transplant in the 1990s.

According to the UNOS web site, there were 33,611 organ transplants in 2016 and 116,800 patients on waiting lists.

Demand for organs for human transplant significantly exceeds supply. They are now repeating the process to engineer male pigs, which Church says he doesn't expect to be any more complicated.

Under the best circumstances, recipients still face the risk of their body rejecting tissue that displays signs of being foreign.

Using organs from another animal "is a promising strategy to alleviate the shortage of organs for human transplantation", the study notes, but one major concern is illnesses that could be transmitted from pigs to humans. Earlier this month, researchers used the method to wipe out a genetic mutation responsible for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a potentially deadly heart condition that causes the cardiac muscles to harden.

The eGenesis scientists, many of them alums of George Church's lab at Harvard Medical School, scrambled for a solution.

Doctors performing surgery
GETTYScientists modified pigs DNA before putting it in an embryo

The other is that species, including pigs, come with genome elements called endogenous retroviruses (ERVs).

The focus of the current study was to demonstrate that they could achieve the same results and inactivate porcine retroviruses from pig foetal fibroblast (connective tissue) cells.

That hurdle may now have been cleared away, according to new research reported in the journal Science.

But 15 of them did, and none show any sign of PERV in their cells.

In additions, the pigs were "the most genetically modified [animals] in terms of the number of modifications", as well.

"This research represents an important advance in addressing safety concerns about cross-species viral transmission".

Further modifications, however, particularly in the process of DNA fix, produced a 100% PERV-free result.

Of course the thought of exploiting animals in such a way isn't everybody's cup of tea. This enabled them to ultimately breed pigs with virus-free organs. In the context of xenotransplantation, those elements pose two separate challenges. This potential organ resource could help save the lives of millions of patients suffering from organ failure, Yang added.

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