May 30, 2024

Gene editing technique makes pig organ transplants possible

But by using the CRISPR technique, researchers believe that they have reduced the risk of infection by pig viruses 1000-fold.

Scientists are moving closer to transplanting animal organs into human beings. A team led by George Church, of Harvard, has used the CRISPR gene editing technique to remove all 62 copies of a pig retrovirus which is dangerous for humans.

This is a significant step on the road to generating pig organs for possible xenotransplantation. Worldwide, human organs for transplant are in short supply. While pig organs have long been considered a viable option, porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) — found in all pigs’ DNA – can be transmitted to humans where they may cause disease. This has resulted in a worldwide moratorium on pig-to-human transplants.

In the past, strategies for reducing the risk of PERV transmission to humans during transplantation have had limited success. But by using the CRISPR technique, Church and his colleagues believe that they have reduced PERV infectivity by 1000-fold.

Technically, the research is very impressive. In an article in Science, the researchers reported that they had managed to modify more than 60 genes in pig embryos — ten times more than have been edited in any other animal. According to Nature, A biotech company that Church co-founded to produce pigs for organ transplantation, eGenesis in Boston, is working on making the process as cheap as possible.
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