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Pigs serve as a promising source for organ transplants

Pigs serve as a promising source for organ transplants

Growing human organs inside pigs and sheep could reduce patient wait times

By Kate Ayers
Staff Writer

Long waiting lists for organ transplants could be slashed by using human stem cells to develop new human organs inside pigs and sheep, thanks to recent work by researchers in California.

Scientists insert the patient’s stem cells into an animal embryo during the earliest stages of reproduction, according to a CTV article yesterday.

When the animal is fully grown, it should have fully developed human organs.

“The objective of this (project) is to be able to generate organs for patients so that there are no more waitlists. (The aim is for) the organs (to be) the perfect match for each patient with no immunosuppression treatments required and no rejection of the organs,” Dr. Pablo Ross, an associate professor at the University of California, said to today.

The team has already had success with other species.

“We can grow a mouse pancreas inside a rat, then take cells from that mouse pancreas and put it back in a diabetic mouse and basically cure diabetes without really requiring immunosuppression,” Ross said to CTV.

Ross and his colleagues recently celebrated a significant accomplishment when they placed human stem cells into pig embryos. This work serves as the first step in making this technique feasible. The team is now working on a sheep/human hybrid.

Although scientists have made advancements in this area of research, it could take years until animals are used for producing organs for human patients.

This work “has huge implications, but we are in the very early stages of development,” Ross said to

For an animal to be capable of growing human organs, about 1 per cent of the animal’s embryo cells must be human, Ross said in the article. As of now, the researchers have attained about 0.001 per cent in pigs and 0.01 in sheep.

Pigs and sheep are adequate organ donors because their organs are close in size to humans and these animals grow relatively quickly from embryo to adult.

Over 4,500 people waited for an organ transplant in 2014 and 278 of them died, according to Health Canada.

The scientists presented their work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Texas on Sunday. Although they have yet to publish results, the work is part of a longer-term project.


Photo Credit: Reptile8488/E+ 

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