Gene editing may usher in pig-to-human organ transplants

Cross-species organ transplants are nothing new (the pursuit of such, that is), but they're limited in more than one way. Pigs hold the most promise when it comes to transplants for humans, and research has been underway to make such cross-species organ transplants possible. In a new report from Science, researchers have detailed how gene-editing may pave the way for such medical realities. The editing, among other things, destroys DNA sequences in the pig's genome that could be harmful to humans.

Using pig organs as transplants for humans have a couple big issues — for one thing, the pig organ causes a severe immune response in the receiving party, and secondly, pig DNA has many copies of a sequence from the porcine endogenous retrovirus (PERV). The sequences can produce viral particles that are infectious, and past research has shown they are able to pass from pig to human cells.

In this most recent project, researchers used a gene editing process called CRISPR to target harmful DNA sequences across 62 different sites in the pig's DNA — in this case, the PERV sequences. The resulting PERV-free cells could, eventually, be used to produce embryos free of the harmful sequences and that are better in line with the human immune system.

Organs harvested from these pigs could then be used as transplants for humans, addressing the massive waiting lists that exist across the nation. The gene-editing process could also be used to edit out other harmful genes from DNA in the future, though targeting more than one type at a time still proves tricky.

SOURCE: Science Mag