New York Times Researchers have created gene-edited piglets cleansed of viruses that might cause disease in humans. The experiments, reported yesterday in the journal Science, may make it possible one day to transplant livers, hearts and other organs from pigs into humans., Pig heart valves already are routinely transplanted into patients, but David Klassen, the medical officer for the private, nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing which manages the transplant system, says pig organs “could be a real game changer.”
There were 33,600 organ transplants last year, and 116,800 patients on waiting lists, according to Dr. Klassen, who sited a “big gap between organ supply and organ demand.”
Pig organs were pursued in the 1990’s but in 1998, Dr. J Fishman, co-director of the transplant program at Massachusetts General Hospital, discovered that pig genes had viruses the resembled leukemia in monkeys. In laboratory experiments, these retroviruses spread to the human cells. That brought the idea of using pig organs to a halt. Today, thinking humans will be infected with pig retroviruses doesn’t bother Dr. George Church, a geneticist at Harvard, because of the new gene editing CRIPSR technology. Here’s why. Dr. Church and his team cells from pigs and snipped the viral DNA from their genomes. Then they cloned the edited cells and slipped them into an egg, An embryo developed The embryos were implanted in sows and fifteen piglets were eventually born and survived. He claims none of these genetically engineered piglets have the retrovirus. He thinks said the first pig-to-human transplants could occur within two years.
Animal welfare concerns are met with the fact that a few thousand pigs would be grown to give organs, compared to the 100 million that are slaughtered for food in the United States alone. Many religious groups have concluded pig organs are acceptable, Muslim and Jewish communities do not endorse pig kidneys for transplant.