Thousands of people die each year waiting for an organ transplant as there aren’t enough human organs available, so researchers are turning to an unlikely source, the genetically modified (GM) pigs.
And these pigs could apparently offer something that human donation can’t – an almost unlimited supply of organs.
Researchers have announced that they were able to keep a pig heart alive in a baboon for 945 days. They were also able to shatter records with their kidney transplant between these species, which lasted for 136 days. The previous record was 90 days, though researchers suggest that survival for more than 30 days is unusual. Their findings, detailed in the journal Xenotransplantation, brings us one step closer to pig-to-human transplants. Researchers believe that young pigs are an ideal animal for transplants because their organs are in the right size.
The researchers say they have kept a pig heart alive in a baboon for 945 days and also reported thelongest-ever kidney swap between these species, lasting 136 days. The experiments used organs from pigs “humanized” with the addition of as many as five human genes, a strategy designed to stop organ rejection.
The GM pigs are being produced in Blacksburg, Virginia, by Revivicor, a division of the biotechnology company United Therapeutics. That company’s founder and co-CEO, Martine Rothblatt, is a noted futurist who four years ago began spending millions to supply researchers with pig organs and has quickly become the largest commercial backer of xenotransplantation research.
Rothblatt says her goal is to create “an unlimited supply of transplantable organs” and to carry out the first successful pig-to-human lung transplant within a few years. One of her daughters has a usually fatal lung condition called pulmonary arterial hypertension. In addition to GM pigs, her company is carrying out research on tissue-engineered lungs and cryopreservation of organs.
We’re turning xenotransplantation from what looked like a kind of Apollo-level problem into just an engineering task,” she says.
The study builds on previous research that removed a sugar molecule that played a significant role in hyperacute rejection. Researchers went on to genetically modify pigs, giving them human genes to make the organs more compatible and increase the success of an organ transplant. Researchers hope that by adding human genes, the organ will repress the immune response, so patients depend less on huge doses ofimmunosuppressant drugs. By next year, researchers hope to add eight genes to some of the pigs.
There’s still a great deal of progress to be made, and researchers have their eyes on a more ambitious goal: To successfully complete a pig-to-human lung transplant within the next few years. Lung transplants are a lot more difficult, but Rothblatt is eager to push through with the research.
via MIT Technology Review