Major step towards growing human organs in pigs

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While patients that have received treatments made from pig pancreas cells and pig skin haven't contracted any porcine viruses and some researchers think that they don't pose a major risk, this study showed that the viruses were able to infect human cells in vitro, which could then infect other human cells. The research has been published in the journal Science. Using CRISPR gene editing, researchers from the company and several academic labs created dozens of apparently healthy pigs with no trace of PERV genes.

Fears that pig organs would infect humans with weird retroviruses brought the research to a halt. But by exposing the cells to a chemical cocktail that encouraged growth and tamped down on a key growth-suppressing gene, the team bumped up the portion of flourishing PERV-free cells in a dish to 100%.

"What we are trying to do is create a world where there is no shortage of organs", said eGenesis Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer Luhan Yang in an interview with CNBC. "We generated a protocol to enable multiplex genome editing, eradicated all PERV activity using CRISPR technology in cloneable primary porcine fibroblasts and successfully produced PERV-free piglets".

'Our team will further engineer the virus-free pig strain to deliver safe and effective xenotransplantation'. Therefore, the first pig to human organ transplantation could still be years away.

For example, the stomach, spleen, bile duct system, small intestines, kidneys, bladder, heart, and lungs are basically the same. But one of the largest safety concerns has been the fact that most mammals including pigs contain repetitive, latent retrovirus fragments in their genomes - present in all their living cells - that are harmless to their native hosts but can cause disease in other species.

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"We don't know that if we transplant pig organs with the viruses that they will transmit infections, and we don't know that the infections are risky", Fishman said. Their involvement in multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease has also been proposed.

Genetics expert Professor Darren Griffin, from the University of Kent, said: "This represents a significant step forward towards the possibility of making xenotransplantation a reality".

The world has a big organ shortage problem: nearly 120,000 people are now waiting for a transplant in the U.S., and more than 20 people die each day waiting for a new organ.

Xenotransplantation using pigs has been singled out as a possible solution to the organ crisis because the organs of pigs and humans are similar in size and function. That was the first step Egenesis took back in 2015 when it inactivated 62 virus genes in pig embryos. What's more, retroviruses replicate by inserting a copy of their genome into their host's so those viruses may have been part of the pig genome for the roughly 25 million years that pig species have existed.

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