Beginning in 1990, researchers began experimenting with transplanting pig organs into humans. This is known as xenotransplantation. They began this research so humans would not have to wait for another human to die to use their organs. The experiments were halted in 1998 due to the discovery of “viral genes” in the pigs DNA known as PERVs. Further research has shown that humans host the same endogenous retroviruses. When pig cells were mixed with human cells in a petri dish, they observed that the pig cells had infected the human cells. The researches tried to rid the pigs of the retroviruses, it seemed impossible because they seemed to be a part of the pigs’ genomes’.
Beginning of 2013, scientists lead by Dr. Church have been using the Crispr technique to edit the genes of PERVs, and turned out that they could contain them within the pigs genome. With more thorough testing, they found 62 PERVs within the genome. They also found out that the DNA was almost identical from each human and pig virus. The scientists then engineered genes that produced specific enzymes to hunt the PERVs and eradicate them of their viral DNA. After two weeks, the viral DNA was destroyed. The biggest accomplishment came after the genomic surgery, where the pig cells began to grow normally and chromosomes had no mutations.
Dr. Church and the scientists have finally discovered one molecule that could change all 62 genes singlehandedly. The next step in their research is to edit genes that wouldn’t alert the human immune system so the organ transplants can be successful. Dr. Dunn said “This work brings us closer to a realization of a limitless supply of safe, dependable pig organs for transplant.” These scientists hope to be able to transplant pig organs into humans in the near future.
This research in particular is incredibly fascinating to me that they can edit genes in different animals and have it translate into humans. This could solve the problem of people being stuck on waiting lists and potentially losing their lives for not having a match. Although this will take decades, it’s amazing to see the direction that this research is headed towards.
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