Experts make great breakthrough in organ transplantation
One vision of genetic engineering is the use of the organs of genetically modified animals for human transplants. Researchers have now genetically engineered 37 pigs to remove existing viruses from their DNA. With this, the experts overcome one of the greatest barriers to transplant pig organs into humans.
The scientists from the world-renowned Harvard University and the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with various other universities, succeeded in freeing the organs of genetically modified pigs from certain viruses in their current study. This will probably make it possible for organs from pigs to be transplanted into the human body in the near future, the researchers report. The doctors published the results of their study in the scientific journal "Science".
Experts discover 25 porcine endogenous retroviruses in the genetic code of pigs
It is a major challenge to modify pig DNA so that organs are not rejected by the human body after a transplant. However, the new results are a first promising step, the researchers say. The scientists started their investigation on the skin cells of a pig. They identified 25 so-called porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERV), which were hidden in the pig's genetic code.
Viruses from animal organs led to infection
In experiments, human cells and cells from pigs were mixed together. It was found that the viruses could escape and then infect human tissue. The researchers therefore used so-called gene editing technology to remove these retroviruses.
Researchers create the first pigs without PERV
The doctors then used the same cloning technology that was already used in the Dolly cloning sheep to inject the genetic material from these cells into a pig's egg cell and thus produce embryos. 37 healthy piglets were born later. These 37 animals are the first pigs without PERV, explains author Dr. Luhan Yang. Pigs are also the most genetically modified animals so far when it comes to the number of genetic modifications.
Results could reduce waiting times for organ transplants in the future
If so-called xenotransplantation (transplanting organs of one type into another) works, then the waiting times for a transplant could be greatly reduced in the future. In the United States alone, more than 100,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant.
More research is needed
"We are at a very early stage in research and development," the researchers emphasize. A world in which people do not have to fear a lack of organs for transplantation has so far only remained a great vision.
Pigs are particularly suitable for xenotransplantation
Pigs are particularly promising for xenotransplantation because their organs are similar in size to humans. In addition, such animals can easily be bred in large numbers.
Further genetic changes are needed
However, virus removal was only part of the challenge. Organs donated by humans can also cause a strong immune response. This leads to rejection after a transplant. The research team examined further genetic changes to make pig organs more acceptable to the human immune system. The study is a promising first step in the development of genetic swine creation strategies that eliminate the risk of retrovirus transmission. It remains to be seen whether the results of the study can be translated into a completely safe strategy for organ transplantation, the experts explain. (As)