Organ transplant is one of the most expensive medical procedures, not just because of the required surgery process, but also due to the fact that obtaining the right organ from a willing human donor is a nightmare. In most cases, those suffering from organ failure have to wait until the death of a compatible donor in order to obtain the desired organ.
To leverage on the difficulty of obtaining suitable organs, scientists have tried to seek assistance from animals but with little success. The problem with non-human animal organs is that more often than not the human immune system will reject the organ – but this problem may not persist for long.
In the recent years gene editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9 has advanced, enabling scientists to come up with weird GMO products including the failed genetically modified embryo that was tried by Chinese scientists. One othe weird successes is the breakthrough in editing of 62 separate genes in pig embryos to make the animals’ organs more likely to be accepted by the human immune system using the CRISPR/Cas9 technique. You may think of this technique as cut and insert Ms Word editing tools. With CRISPR/Cas9, scientists are able to target a particular section of the DNA sequence, insert a desirable DNA sequence e.g. a particular gene to enable particular traits to flourish, or cut out (delete) undesirable genes from the DNA sequence.
Thus researchers from Harvard Medical School set out to do this to pig embryos where they were able to inactivate 62 porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) which could potentially cause disease if activated in transplanted organs. They then targeted genes that have the potential to cause the human immune system to reject the big’s organs and deleted them out. ere, they modified over 20 genes that encode proteins found on the surface of pig cells, and which are known to provoke an immune response or cause blood clotting. According to Nature News, the specific genes targeted have not yet been revealed as the findings are yet to be published.
Although the pigs may be ready to donate their organs to us, there are a few concerns that need to be addressed, one of which is a science and problem and other one an after thought. The science problem is that there is a potential for the animal organs to carry with them unknown or not yet understood animal microbes that can cause incurable diseases on the human recipients.
The other one is – should science encourage the development of life saving techniques like these given that the world is already over populated?