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Pig-to-human organ transplants could soon be a reality

13 Agosto 2017

Today scientists in MA announced that by using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system they were able to inactivate all 25 viruses in the pig genome, yielding seemingly healthy piglets and moving research one step closer to a future of xenotransplantation.

"We envision our animals will provide a lot of information to the gene editing and gene therapy field, by revealing whether there are long-term effects" of multiplexed genome editing, senior author Luhan Yang told BioWorld.

The researchers conclude that they have shown porcine retroviruses can be passed from pig to human cells in the laboratory, highlighting "the risk of cross-species viral transmission in the context of xenotransplantation".

Demand for organs for human transplant significantly exceeds supply.

According to the UNOS web site, there were 33,611 organ transplants in 2016 and 116,800 patients on waiting lists. In the United States, there is one person added to the waiting list every 10 minutes, and 20 patients on the list die every day.

Now they might have even more use for humans. But for years, the path to xenotransplantation has been paved with disappointment.

There are two major barriers to xenotransplantation. But it may be years before enough is known about the safety of pig organ transplants to allow them to be used widely.

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

Egenesis' strategy is to remove the PERVs via gene editing.

Scientists have edited the pig genome to deactivate a family of retroviruses.

Thirty-seven genetically edited piglets have been generated with dozens of viruses found in pig DNA that are potentially harmful to people removed from their DNA. Those embryos were then implanted in sows, growing to fully-formed piglets, free of PERV.

Through their private company called eGenesis, Harvard researchers, together with Chinese and Danish collaborators, have created genetically engineered piglets that are free of viruses that might harm humans. They used a technology known as CRISPR that works as a type of molecular scissors, trimming away unwanted parts of a genome.

How many people (and pigs) could this affect?

When the human embryonic cells (cells derived from embryos developed from eggs fertilised in the lab) were monitored for four months, the number of porcine retroviruses increased over time.

In its research, Pew defined the highly religious as those who said religion was "very important" in their lives, and said they attended religious services weekly and prayed daily.

In the long run, Egenesis is working on developing a method that can address both cross-species immunocompatibility and PERVs. Porcine retroviruses (PERVs) are now one of the big safety barriers preventing us using pigs as organ donors. "The challenge is to do it to benefit human health in a positive way on a global sense".

Pig-to-human organ transplants could soon be a reality