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Why People May Have Pig Organs Inside Them One Day

From TIME - August 25, 2017

More than 116,000 Americans are waiting to receive an organ transplant, and about 20 die each day during the wait. Scientists are eager to find solutions to the organ shortage.

That's why a recent landmark report in the journal Science, which detailed the creation of piglets that could potentially provide organs for human transplants in the future, is being heralded asa real game changer. R esearchers from Harvard University, the biotech company eGenesis and other institutions explained how they used cloning and the gene-editing technology CRISPR to create pigs that may be used for human organ transplants down the lineif further research proves them safe and effective.

The findings have obvious implications for the many people waiting for a transplant. But one of the lead study authors,George Church,a geneticist at Harvard and founder of eGenesis, says the promise of pig organs that are compatible with humans may be even bigger. If pig organs could be engineered to be even healthier and more durable than the average human organwhich Church believes is possiblethey could have a profound effect on human health and longevity, he says.

Pig organ research is still in very early stages, and the researchers, including Church, say they are still years away from fully understanding whether pig organ transplants are even safe.

In this study, Church and his colleagues were able to create piglets free of the viruses that would make them unsuitable for human transplant.Church believes that scientists may be able to take it one step further and engineer pig organs to be free of disease and resistant to cancer and some age-related deterioration. One thing about pig organs that I find even more attractive than just helping the transplantation crisis is that it can be preventive medicine, says Church. People who need an organ transplant who are a high risk for hepatitis B, for example, may benefit from a liver engineered to be resistant to the disease.Cells and organs which are resistant to cancers, pathogens and senescence could be better in a preventative sense than the normal human organs which are being replaced, he says.

They may also be fresher, he says. "Many transplant surgeries are canceled with the patient on the operating table because the replacement organ is a few hours too old.

If the use of pigs as organ donors eventually becomes an approved procedure, Church says it could be possible to keep live pigs on site at a hospital. He believes it may also be possible to engineer their organs to be safely preserved though cryopreservationfreezing tissues for storageor other methods, he says, which could cut down on transplant time.

MORE: The New Transplant Revolution

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