Pigs Are More Than Bacon

Image from Public Domain

There are thousands of people who are in desire need of an organ transplant but are stuck on a long waitlist with everyone else in the nation. According to U.S. federal figures, about 20 people die every day waiting for a match. But, recently, many scientists have cloned animals that can be used to harvest human organs, such as the kidney and heart which has a similar anatomy to humans. These altered animals offer new hope for the thousands on the kidney and heart transplant list. Harvesting pig organs is still under a lot of consideration, but could be a plausible reality in the near future.

How is harvesting pig organs even possible? New gene-editing technologies like CRISPR allow for alterations in the pig’s DNA to make it compatible with humans. However, there are about 25 retroviruses – which are ineffective to pigs, but not necessarily humans – that are included in the pig’s genome which CRISPR has begun editing, bring the use of pig organs for transplants as a closer reality. There have been pigs that have survived long after an altercation with their genome. Since CRISPR breaks parts of DNA, many cells will undergo apoptosis, but the ones that survive are cloned and then develop an embryo. Each organ has unique properties, and researchers are learning if the organs’ functionalities are based on the cloned pigs’ lifespans.

Another crucial question is how compatible pigs’ organs are in the human system. The immune system may consider different organs are foreign, which is why doctors have to be careful with organ transplants and blood transfusions. In order for these transplant to functional, there need to be immunology changes, tissue compatibility, and fixing blood clotting issues. There need to be many tests before any operation comes, and this is why many researchers believe that organ transplant is still a far reality. There are too many uncontrollable variables and very few human tests that have occurred.

The laws around genetic alterations in pigs and later in humans is cloudy because there are not many guidelines placed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many researchers believe that the retroviruses in the pigs have become immune to do not to be removed and currently the FDA does not require the viruses to be removed in the pig’s genome. There are still a lot of regulations needed before hospitals start these transplants.

Overall, as the need for more organs arises then the scientific need for another solution will develop. The need for organs will not disappear, but rather excel as the waitlist for more and more people rise. Pigs have gone through multiple tests through CRISPR to make sure the transplant will not cause more problems than they create, by making the organs more human-like. The test is based on the cloned pigs’ lifespans which have been around a 60% success rate. Even though the complications of the pig are still something scientist are trying to solve they need to make sure the human body does not reject the pigs’ organs, and each organ has a different effect. Plus, making sure the FDA has detailed regulations before using pigs’ organs. The development of this new technique has made incredible strides in the last decade, but there are still many issues that need to be evaluated.

About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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