US scientists to produce human organs inside pig embryos

  • Scientists from the University of California, Davis successfully injected human stem cells inside pig embryos
  • The research aims to solve global shortage of organ donor
  • Critics of the research say they are afraid that pigs injected with human stem cells will become, in some way, more human

United States scientists have successfully injected human stem cells into pig embryos in trying to grow human organs inside pigs.

The process, known to science as chimeras, is an attempt to solve the worldwide shortage of human organ donors. In the United Kingdom, hundreds of people die each year because of human organ donor shortage. Scientists hope that the part-pig, part-human creatures will lead to a sustainable way to grow and harvest human organs for patients

University of California, Davis researchers’ team said that pigs injected with human stem cells should look and behave like normal pigs. The only exception, according to them, is that one organ of these pigs will be composed of human cells.

Developing human-pig chimeras will take 28 days before the pregnancies are terminated and the tissue removed for analysis, wrote BBC’s Fergus Walsh.

In an article written by Kevin Rawlinson and Nicola Davis that was published on The Guardian, scientists combined human induced pluripotent or iPS stem cells with pig DNA inside a pig embryo. The scientific process involved creating a void in the pig’s DNA using the technique known as CRISPR gene editing.  The gene editor is used to remove DNA from a newly fertilized pig embryo that would enable the resulting fetus to grow a pancreas.

The research hopes the resulting pig fetus will grow a human pancreas and, according to scientists, the same technique could be used to grow other human organs.

A reproductive biologist Pablo Ross believes that gene editing technique could transform the future. He hopes the pig embryo will develop normally and the pancreas will be made almost exclusively out of human cells, wrote Ben Spencer of DailyMail. Ross added they expect that the pancreas would be compatible with a patient for transplantation.

However, the US National Institutes of Health said that it would not back “chimeras” research until it knew more about the implications. The US health agency has imposed moratorium on funding such experiments last year.

The critics’ main concern is the possibility of human cells migrating to the pig’s brain. They said that if this incident happens, the process will make the pigs in some way more human.

The same reaction came from an international farm animal welfare organization called Compassion in World Farming. The organization’s chief policy advisor Peter Stevenson said such experiment which will open a new source of animal suffering should be thought thoroughly before being allowed.