As part of the research aimed at overcoming worldwide shortage of human organs for transplant, scientists have managed to create human-pig embryos that are part-human‚ part pig.
Research team at the University of California‚ Davis‚ implanted and allowed the human-pig embryos to mature to 28 days old before terminating and examining them. In the course of the study, they had injected human stem cells into the embryos of a pig to produce the human-pig embryos known as chimeras.
The team said the embryos should look and behave like normal pigs except that one organ will have the composition of human cells.
The major target of the research is to find a way to create a steady supply of human organs to be used during emergency life-saving transplants.
Authorities who feared that the pigs might develop human-like brains previously opposed the research.
However, the reproductive biologist leading the research team, Prof Pablo Ross said there was a “very low potential” of this happening, but added that his team will investigate on that.
“Gene editing could ensure the organs are very clean‚ available on demand and healthy‚ so they could be superior to human donor organs‚” Professor George Church‚ who has worked on similar research put the ethical issues aside and highlighted the potential of saving lives which the research has.
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Prof Ross said that when his team previously injected human stem cells into pig embryos without first creating the genetic niche, they “struggled to compete” with the pig cells although they later found human cells in several parts of the developing foetus.
However, by deleting a key gene involved in the creation of the pig pancreas, the team hopes the human cells will have more success creating a human-like pancreas this time.