(CN) – In a gene-editing breakthrough, a new study found that humans could one day receive organ transplants from piglets.
Harvard scientists, along with the biotech company eGenesis and other institutions, teamed up using gene-editing technology and cloning to create virus-free piglets that could potentially be used for human organ transplants.
“Xenotransplantation is a promising strategy to alleviate the shortage of organs for human transplantation,” according to the study released Thursday in the journal Science.
Previous clinical research on the topic was impeded by concern over pig-to-human immunological compatibility and the risk of cross-species transmission of porcine endogenous retroviruses, or PERVs.
However, the team in Thursday’s study altered pig cells using gene-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 to target and deter the virus-related DNA. The cells were then cloned, developed into an embryo and implanted into sows and became piglets.
Of the 37 piglets born, none had retroviruses.
Some were killed to study their organs and others were not brought to term, but there are still 15 piglets alive following the study.
“Our study highlighted the value of PERV inactivation to prevent cross-species viral transmission and demonstrated the successful production of PERV-inactivated animals to address the safety concern in clinical xenotransplantation,” the study authors wrote.
The science is still in its early stages, but one of the study authors, geneticist George Church, told the New York Times that he thinks pig-to-human transplants may be possible within the next two years.