Medical Breakthrough Could Allow Pig-to-Human Organ Transplants

Scientists are one step closer to transplanting pig organs to humans thanks to a gene-editing breakthrough

Harvard Medical School and a Kendall Square start-up joined their forces and made a breakthrough in medicine that could save thousands of lives in the near future.

Researchers used CRISPR, a highly controversial technique that takes out unwanted parts of DNA in order to remove viruses in pigs that stood in the way of cross-species transplantation.

“This research represents an important advance in addressing safety concerns about cross-species viral transmission,” Luhan Yang, a Harvard scientist said

It is the second time in just a few weeks when CRISPR makes it to the headlines. Earlier this month, researchers used the method to erase a genetic mutation that was responsible for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a potentially deadly heart condition that causes the cardiac muscles to harden.

However, this technique is an especially innovative use of the technology and succeeded in surprising even other leaders in Boston’s genomics community.

“Here I am a geneticist, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me. This is somewhat unexpected and really exciting.” Dr. Robert Green of Brigham and Women’s Hospital said

He also hailed the outstanding study as further evidence “that the era of genomics in general and manipulating genomics is upon us, and it’s going to be opening lots and lots of doors.”

Numbers say that around 118,000 people in the US only are in need of a lifesaving organ transplant, while only 75,000 are candidates on the waiting list.

For entire decades, scientists have tried to advance in the field of xenotransplantation, which is taking organs from a species and implanting them in another. Pigs are a good choice due to the fact that their organs are of similar size to humans’, as well as their functions.