Science has taken a huge new step. For the purpose of growing organs suitable for human transplant, scientists have managed to create a pig-human hybrid. It is the first time that two distantly-related species have been blended to create an embryo. The idea has raised a lot of eyebrows and of course has many ethical concerns.
The way they have achieved this amazing feat is by injecting human stem cells into very young pig embryos. The idea is not to engineer a creature that looks half pig and half human, it is to grow a pig that will have selected organs suitable for human transplant. In other words it is like having a pig grow human kidneys or a human liver for example.
The Guardian reports that from 2000 attempts:
More than 150 of the embryos developed into chimeras that were mostly pig, but with a tiny human contribution of around one in 10,000 cells.
The progress will not only create a transplant option possibility, it also opens up a platform for scientists to test for human responses to disease and other experiments that would be considered unethical to carry out on human beings. Ten years ago scientists were combing mice with rats in related experiments. The hope is that they will be able to turn certain genes on and off in these ‘chimera’.
Professor Daniel Garry is the head of the project at Minnesota University and he is well aware of various ethical concerns surrounding the idea. He acknowledges that there were worries about the hybrid being predominantly human, but says Izpisua Belmonte (the group behind the development) had taken a:
…responsible approach. These more fantastical possibilities are not a problem in reality.
That said, these embryos are still a long way from being useful in the realm of human transplants. Hiromitsu Nakauchi from Stanford University has said of the breakthrough:
It’s a good try, but the result seems like more a negative result.
It may be just a first step, but it is a huge breakthrough. The future hope, according to Izpisua Belmonte is for patients to one day be able to give their own cells for use in hybrid embryo creation, to help create the very organ they need.
Featured image via Youtube