Even with drivers checking the organ donor box at the DMV, we are still terribly low in the number of organs we have for transplant. That means not everyone can be saved when all they need to pull though is a new lung or kidney.
While incentives are being created, and scientists have had luck in growing new organs from stem cells, some are still skeptical about growing transplant organs inside animals. I mean, stem cells are one thing, but inside of a cow? Wouldn't that mess with the genetic makeup or something?
The MIT Technology Review has already found three US groups who are growing the transplant organs in animal subjects. Apparently, these groups are creating chimeras, or hybrid creatures between humans and farm animals.
I'm having Fullmetal Alchemist flashbacks.
The research surrounding these experiments has not been published yet, but MIT reports that approximately "20 successful pregnancies were established in either pigs or sheep last year." Unfortunately, all pregnancies were terminated before birth.
This particular method of species fusion uses both stem cells and gene-editing. Scientists "tweak the DNA inside sheep or pig cells so that the developing embryo lacks certain organs or tissues." To make up for the created deficiency, the scientists fill the gaps with normal cells from a different embryo.
While the initial stages of this research involved experimentation with animals genetics, modern experiments have started using human stem cells to fill in the scientifically engineered gaps in the embryos.
Even though the introduction of human cells may lead to abnormalities in the animal's final appearance, Stanford scientist Hiromitsu Nakauchi says there will actually be "relatively few human cells."
“If the extent of human cells is 0.5 percent, it’s very unlikely to get thinking pigs or standing sheep,” Nakauchi told MIT. “But if it’s large, like 40 percent, then we’d have to do something about that.”
This chimera technique goes beyond the genetic experimentation scientists have already been doing with pigs to make their organs more compatible for human transplant. With this new technique taking bigger strides and bigger risks, many are debating the ethics of the entire practice.
Right now, the National Institutes of Health (the biggest funder for medical research in the world) is not making any move to give the research any grants. They might change their minds further down the line, when more successful trials are made public by alternatively funded groups.
What do you guys think? Are we making a step in the right direction, or will this only give false hope?