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Scientists create the first human-pig chimera.
It’s long been considered the holy grail of medical science; how to grow replacement organs for human beings independently from the human body? Now it looks as though the answer to this conundrum may be a little closer. Researchers from the Salk Institute have reported that they have created the first successful human-animal hybrids, otherwise known as chimeras, which could eventually lead to the growth of replacement human organs inside the bodies of pigs.
Scientists have dabbled with two different ways of making chimeras. The first is to implant the organs of one animal into the other. Investigations in this vein have tended to fail as the immune system of the host animal has tended to reject the implanted organ as a foreign body. The other method is more complicated and involves introducing the animal’s cells to one another on an embryonic level and letting them grow together into a hybrid species.
Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor at the Salk Institute’s Gene Expression Laboratory, explains that it has taken four years for the forty person staff to develop the first human-animal chimera. Belmonte explains that they first experimented with stem cells from rats which they injected into pig blastocysts – an experiment which was a dramatic failure owing to the vastly different genealogical heritage of the two animals.
The team noted that pigs are far more similar to human beings than they are to rats and therefore decided to directly introduce human cells to a pig to see if the embryonic hybridisation was even possible. After a laborious process of trial and error, the study’s lead author Jun Wu said that they managed to create 186 viable later-stage chimeric embryos.
Each of the embryos had approximately 100,000 human cells which the scientists have identified as a serious problem going forward. According to Ke Cheng, these organs grown from these chimeric embryos might be rejected by humans as foreign bodies. The researchers on the project agree that this is a stumbling block and it could take years for them to create a chimeric embryo capable of producing viable human organs for implant purposes.
The Salk team are reliant on private donations for their research and will continue to do so in the future. Such experiments are ineligible for public funding in the United States which bars anything to do with stem cell research. However, the government may think twice about this policy given the current situation concerning the organ donor list. It is estimated that a person is added to the waiting list for organ transplants every ten minutes in the United States, and every day twenty-two people will die to wait for the organ they needed.
BUILDING A CHIMERA
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