While the idea may not be appealing, scientists may have finally broken the barrier to using animal organs, specifically those of a pig, for transplants to human bodies. The process is called xenotransplantation, and with the development of this technique, science may be one step closer to saving the thousands of people who die every year because of a shortage of human donors.
Xenotransplantation, Another Use for CRISPR
A biotech company called eGenesis has announced that they have developed a technique for using the gene editing process known as CRISPR to change the DNA in pigs. By doing so, they reportedly removed the potentially harmful viruses that could cross species. With those viruses extricated, xenotransplantation is one step closer to becoming a potential possibility. Everything from hearts to kidneys to lungs and livers could be used to save the more than 22 Americans alone who die every day while waiting for a transplant.
“In studies done before, if you took pig cells and human cells and put them together, the viruses would go to the human cells,” explained Dr. David Agus. “And so now they’ve been eliminated or inactivated. So all of a sudden, it opens the door for the potential of pigs. Pigs’ organs are about the same size as human organs, so it’s actually perfect for transplantations.”
While doctors currently use pig valves in heart surgeries, those tissues are cleaned in formaldehyde. They are also fixed via a special process to remove all the retroviruses that can harm human cells. This new process would allow live tissue to be transplanted without damage, and yet still destroy any damaging virus.
Also, this is just another in a series of advances made by science during the CRISPR revolution. Every day, more new uses for the gene editing technique are surprising the world, and with this new application, we might be one step closer to saving more lives.
Details on the new technology are available in a study paper in the journal Science.
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