Scientists in the United States are embarking on groundbreaking research attempting to turn the average pig into a biological incubator for human organs such as lungs, kidneys and Livers.
According to bbc.com, a team of scientists from University of California have injected human stem cells into developing pig embryo’s in order to conquer a global shortage of donor organs.
After 28 days incubation within a female pig, the scientists hope the organs will look and behave like normal human organs.
A technique called CRISPR gene editing is used to remove DNA from a pig embryo that would stop it from developing a particular organ, say a set of kidneys. Then using what is known as human induced pluripotent (iPS), human stem-cells derived from adult cells are injected into the pig embryo where they will hopefully grow into the desired organ.
The process of transplanting organs and tissue between species is called Xenotransplantation and cases of successful transplants date back to 1984 when Stephanie Fae Beauclair more commonly known as “Baby Fae” received the heart of baboon shortly after being born and diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Baby Fae lived for one month, one day with the transplanted baboon heart.
However Xenotransplantation faces great criticism from both animal rights groups and members of the scientific community concerned about the ethical considerations and possible long term effects of the technique.
Animal rights groups also oppose the technique mainly because animals end up getting killed in order to harvest the organs.
In 2015, the premier US medical research agency, National Institutes of Health instituted a halt on funding for Xenotransplantation experiments citing concerns that the human cells could possibly migrate to the developing pig’s brain and make it more human in some way.
However reproductive biologist Pablo Ross believes that this is highly unlikely but indicated that the ongoing experiment would proceed with caution in order to monitor such possibilities.
“We think there is very low potential for a human brain to grow, but this is something we will be investigating,” said Ross.