Pig DNA edits open possibility of future organ transplants

Scientists have used a gene editing technique to improve the chances of the successful transplant of pig organs into humans.

The landmark study by George Church and his team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School, used the gene editing system known as CRISPR to genetically engineer pig DNA in 62 locations. It was published in the journal  Science.

The CRISPR technique has a range of exciting possibilities, including fighting cancer as Cosmos reported recently. 

The 62 edits were designed to inactivate retroviruses found natively in the pig genome that has so far inhibited pig organs from being suitable for transplant in human patients.

Removing the retroviruses opens the possibilities that humans could one day receive life–saving organ transplants from pigs.

Most mammals including pigs contain latent retrovirus fragments in their genomes – present in all their living cells – that are harmless to their native hosts but can cause disease in other species.

“The presence of this type of virus found in pigs – known as porcine endogenous retroviruses or PERVs – brought over a billion of dollars of pharmaceutical industry investments into developing xenotransplant methods to a standstill by the early 2000s,” said Church.

“PERVs and the lack of ability to remove them from pig DNA was a real showstopper on what had been a promising stage set for xenotransplantation.”

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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