In the future, humans may get organ transplants from genetically altered animals. Scientists from the US and Japan claim to have gotten one step closer towards achieving this goal after they successfully transferred human stem cells into sheep embryos. These ‘chimera’ embryos were developed as an early step to see whether human organs can be grown in farm animals.
By using stem cell and gene editing technologies, scientists were able to produce sheep embryos for which about one in every 100 thousand cells were human.
The embryos were only allowed to grow for 28 days, the researchers said while presenting their findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Texas.
“The contribution of human cells so far is very small.” Said stem cell biologist, Hiro Nakauchi, from Stanford University.” It’s nothing like a pig with a human face or human brain,”
The first experiment that aimed to test whether animals could grow organs that were not their own was performed by Nakauchi, who grew a mouse with a rat pancreas and a rat with a mouse pancreas.
The cells from the rat-grown mouse pancreas were transplanted into a diabetic mouse, a process that allowed the mouse to produce enough insulin cure itself of the condition. This experiment was performed by Nakauchi while he was at the University of Tokyo, however, due to Japan’s restrictive laws involving unorthodox transplants, he later moved to Stanford University in the US.
Co-researchers of the experiment and a professor at the University of California, Pablo Ross, claims that they are now working to translate this technology into humans, “to solve the terrible shortage of organs for transplantation”. Ross explained that about 20 people in the US die every day because they can’t find compatible organs.
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