Genetically modified pig lungs or lab-grown lungs: Which is the future of our organ supply?

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Your loved one might be saved by a lung transplant grown inside a genetically engineered pig.


This is the compound promised by efforts to genetically revise pigs to assume ahead humanized organs. Already a near see eye to eye for humans in many aspects of their biology, it should receive relatively small modification to make pig organs practicable substitutes for human.

The idea has been a propos past at least 2006, but biotech speculator J. Craig Venter has brought it moreover into the headlines by making a acceptance together as well as his private company Synthetic Genomics and United Therapeutics Lung Biotechnology taking into account the explicit seek of making genetically engineered pig organs for human use a realism.

Despite the close resemblance of pig and human organs in terms of size and functionality, the genetic differences surrounded by human host and donor animal leads the immune system to attack the donor organ as a foreign plan. Hence the pretentiousness to create organs which will not set of the immune systems hair activate.

Weon going to begin behind generating a brand toting going on super-accurate sequence of the pig genome, and subsequently go through in detail and compare it to the human genome, Venter told Reuters reporter Julie Steenhuysen.

The intend is to go in and reduce, and where necessary, rewrite using our synthetic genomic tools, the pig genes that seem to be allied at the forefront immune responses, he said. We affectionate to profit it as a repercussion there is no acute or chronic leaving.

Steenhuysen summarizes Venter’s plans:

Venter’s team is tasked with editing and rewriting the pig genome and providing the United Therapeutics group with a series of altered cells. United Therapeutics will take those cells and transplant them into pig eggs, generating embryos that develop and are born with humanized lungs.

If all goes well, Venter thinks his team will be able to deliver the cells in a few years. Testing the humanized organs in clinical trials to ensure they are safe in people will take many more years.

So this well along of pig-grown organs is nevertheless in the money apart from off at best. And in the meantime efforts are are touching focus on to ensue human organs de novo in a lab. In February of this year a team at University of Texas announced their triumph at growing the first human lung in a lab using stem cells.

According to David McNamee at Medical News Daily:

Taking lungs from two children who had died from trauma (most likely a car accident), the researchers stripped one of the lungs down to a bare “skeleton” of just collagen and elastin – the main proteins in connective tissue.

Using this stripped-down lung as a “scaffold,” they then harvested cells from the other lung, which were applied to the scaffolding.

This lung structure was then placed in a chamber filled with a nutritious liquid […]

After 4 weeks of immersion, the team extracted a complete human lung from the liquid.

Unfortunately, according to the McNamee “the reality of lab-engineered lungs being used in transplants could be at least 12 years away”


With both methods of creating donor organs still far from clinical use, there doesn’t seem to be much ethical buzz around either approach yet. I can’t help but expect that pig-grown organs would see push-back, not least of all because creating a supply of genetically modified pigs would raise all the same ethical concerns as raising the animals for meat in addition to pushing the “unnatural” button common in opponents of biotech.

Regardless, pig-grown organs do seem to be coming. Venter’s team isn’t the only one trying to perfect the process of genetically modifying pigs to act as organ donors. Steenhuysen reports that “researchers at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute […] grafted a genetically altered pig heart into the abdomen of a baboon and kept it functioning, aided by the baboon’s natural heart, for more than a year.”
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