According to scientists, pig organs will be ready to be transplanted into human subjects as soon as 2 years from now
Scientists at Harvard Medical School have introduced the latest discovery in the “organ transplants” medical field, with a team of genetics researchers led by Professor George Church announcing that genetically modified pig organs could be used as viable transplants for human patients.
As the NHS struggles to find suitable donors for ten of thousands of patients in the awaiting list each year, the study conducted by Professor Church could mark an era of hope for people in desperate need of sustainable, long-term solutions.
During the “trial and error” early stages of the research, the medical team found that rejection by the human body could be successfully addressed by using genetic mutations of the animal organ. The viral infections, on the other hand, were more problematic to solve.
“The viruses are particularly troubling. Swine flu and Ebola and HIV were all cases where the virus of the animal was in close contact with a human. Nothing could be closer contact than an organ in the middle of the body,” explained Professor Church.
Nevertheless, the pigs created by the scientists were genetically modified to have DNA-deactivated viruses in their bodies. This type of DNA was ultimately transplanted into new embryos, resulting healthy, viable piglets, with no retroviruses to be concerned about.
For now, the technology was only tested on pigs, but as Professor Church explains, the trials on people can start in two years, as the official figures indicate more than 6.000 patients waiting for an organ each year in the UK only.
“We’re encouraged that the number of people becoming donors has helped reduce how long desperately ill people wait before they receive a kidney transplant. However there is a still a severe shortage of donated organs. Two and a half years is far too long to wait for a kidney and far too many people die without ever receiving the transplant they need,“ added Director Sally Johnson from the NHS Blood and Transplant.
Of course, the scientific community is one more time divided, with some researchers warning about the ethical implications of the latest advances on the matter, as well as on the overall human immune response, which is yet to be assessed and closely monitored.