Japanese researchers are seeking less conventional methods to ensure transplant waiting list patients can receive the organs they need -- by growing them inside pigs.
As reported by the BBC, Professor Nagashima has been conducting experiments on pigs. Female pigs have been injected with embryos containing genetic material from two different species, in order for the piglets to grow into chimeric animals.
The animals have been genetically modified to "switch off" natural genes with instructions to create particular organs. Stem cells from other animals are then introduced to replace the missing instructions with organ growth from different pig species.
For example, as a modified white pig grew, so did the animal's pancreas -- which is genetically a black pig's.
The ultimate objective of this research is to eventually develop a method for human organs to be grown inside pigs. Not only this, but Professor Hiro Nakauchi from Tokyo University has taken things a step further. Nakauchi wants to be able to take skin cells from human adults and change them into iPS cells that can be injected into pig embryos. IPS cells are similar to embryonic stem cells, and can grow in to any organ in an animal's body -- and so it may be possible to grow genetically identical organs for humans who need a transplant inside other animals.
So far, the scientists has managed to successfully utilise IPS cells to grow a brown rat's pancreas inside of a white mouse, showing the idea may have promise. If successfully developed to cater for human cells, the research could spell the end of donor organ rejection and waiting lists.
While this research could prove to be the solution to solving the problem of organ donation shortages, the scientists have many obstacles to overcome. As pigs and humans are only distantly related, growing human organs inside the pigs is a massive step beyond current experiments. While the team are confident the transition from black pigs and white pigs to humans can be done, it could take up to five years -- or longer.
In addition, critics of chimeric research could prevent such hybrids from being legal, and the ethics of such experiments also comes in to play.
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