A team of scientists are exploring the possibility of using CRISPR to engineer and grow human organs in pigs, and have so far succeeded in growing a human pancreas for 28 days
While growing human organs in animals is by no means a new idea, previous efforts have been hindered by fears of spread animal diseases. There has also been ethical controversy, with additional concerns that human genetic material might somehow spread to the brain. While artificial organ growth is a far more preferable solution, the farming industry remains intact and is likely to remain so for some time. Harvesting human organs from such a sizeable, renewable source is therefore an appealing idea for many people.
Growing a human pancreas
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing platform to remove the section of pig DNA that encodes for the pancreas. They then implanted human stem cells into pig embryos now missing this pancreatic DNA section. This is an ongoing project, but efforts have been partially successful so far, with a human pancreas surviving for 28 days before termination.
This concept has a lot of potential if it proves to be viable. Using human stem cells means that personalised stem cells could be removed from diseased patients and implanted into new pig embryos – providing a source of personalised organs that wouldn’t create immune rejection issues. The project may be in its early days, and many people would argue such a solution is far from ideal, but until additional technology matures it could be an alternative solution to providing organ replacements.
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