A US science firm is testing genetically modified pig organs in monkeys in the hope they can be transplanted into humans.
Harvard University geneticist George Church is using CRISPR gene-editing techniques in a weird science bid to end his country’s critical shortage of donated organs.
Pig organs are used as they are similar in size to those of humans (stock)[/caption]
His firm eGenesis is now working to scientifically adapt pig organs so they are one day suitable for human use.
However, xenotransplantation – the process of transplanting organic material from one species to another – has not yet been tested on humans.
Instead eGenesis is transplanting modified pig organs into monkeys, at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The experiments are being led by the hospital’s chief of transplant surgery, Dr James Markmann, who says the tests are a “necessary step” toward human use.
Which organs, what species of monkey and details on how the pigs have been raised, have not been revealed, reports the MIT Technology Review.
However, this isn’t the first time pig organs have reportedly been tested on primates.
What is CRSPR gene editing, is it legal and how does it work?
CRISPR technology is a simple yet powerful tool for editing an animal’s genomes.
It allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify the function of a gene.
Applications include correcting genetic defects and preventing the spread of diseases.
CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) is shorthand for CRISPR-Cas9.
CRISPRs are specialised stretches of DNA.
The protein Cas9 is an enzyme which acts like a pair of scissors, capable of cutting strands of DNA.
This process allows for the manipulation of genes or what has become known as editing.
In the US, Congress prohibits federal dollars from funding research into genetically editing human embryos.
However, other branches of the US government have given the green light to some CRISPR experiments.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health successfully placed pig hearts inside baboons, keeping them beating, alongside their original hearts, for two years.
And just last year, German surgeons claimed several baboons survived about a half-year after their hearts were replaced with those of pigs.
In 2015, eGenesis announced it had raised more than $38million to advance its ongoing research and development work.
Church said at the time his new work could revive the idea of xenotransplantation.
“Basically, this whole field has been in the doldrums for 15 years,” he said.
“There’s been kind of a few true believers that had it on life support. But I think this changes the game completely.”
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About 122,500 people in the United States alone are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.
Some have argued that a steady supply of pig organs could make up the shortage, because they are similar in size to those of humans.
But so far, no one has been able to get around the violent immune response that pig cells provoke in other animals.
Harvard University geneticist George Church is using CRISPR gene-editing techniques[/caption]
What species of monkey and details on how the pigs are raised have not been revealed (stock)[/caption]
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