Believe It or Not, Pigs Could Soon Be Organ Donors for Humans—Here’s How

Researchers have successfully edited the DNA of 15 cloned pigs so that they are no longer susceptible to a specific virus.

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Pull out your license. Depending on your state’s license design, either on the front or the back there should be some symbol or phrase denoting you as an organ donor. About 45 percent of all Americans fall into this special group, according to the Atlantic. (Like this incredible woman who was a kidney donor—twice.) But what exactly does it take to be a donor?

Eligibility wise, “all adults in the U.S. and in some states people under the age of 18” can designate themselves as a donor, according to organdonor.gov. But soon enough, there might need to be an addendum to those requirements, as new research has opened up the possibility of pigs becoming organ donors in the not-so-distant future.

The experiments, which were documented in Science, involved editing the DNA of cloned pigs so that they would no longer be susceptible to “retroviruses” which could infect humans after the transplant.

The retrovirus issue is only one part of the challenges which face pig-to-human transplants. Although pig organs are appropriately sized for humans and seem to be able to function as needed, they are coated with a layer of carbohydrates which cause other organisms to reject said tissue.

However, steps have been made to address that problem, also through gene editing. Pig organs without carbohydrates were created in cloned pigs and then transplanted into monkeys and baboons successfully. A year later, those monkeys and baboons are still healthy.

According to the New York Times, 33,600 organ transplants were conducted last year (you have to read the amazing story of a man who held his own heart in his hands after a successful transplant), and 21 people die each day while waiting for an organ. If research like this continues to find success, this issue will become a non-issue soon enough.

Source: The New York Times

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