Scientists create human-pig 'chimera' embryos in lab
Scientists create human-pig 'chimera' embryos in lab
Organs made to order?Manfred Weis Getty
29 January, 2017, 13:12
Scientists have created a human-pig hybrid in a milestone study that raises the prospect of being able to grow human organs inside animals for use in transplants.
They were injected into pig embryos made using another trick called parthenogenesis - a technique for jump-starting unfertilized egg cells into developing as if they had been fertilized. For instance, researchers don't want humancells to contribute to the formation of the brain.
Chimeras, animals with a mix of DNA and cells from more than one species, are a controversial topic to say the least. "The larger the evolutionary distance, the more hard for them to mix". "This is an important first step", saidJuan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, who led the work on the human-pig hybrid. Rat-grown mouse pancreas were transplanted in mice with diabetes and given immunosuppressive therapy to prevent rejection.
"You're going to have to watch carefully what is happening during the course of development, and be ready to shut down something that looks like it's an unintentional outcome", he said, meaning a pig embryo with any kind of human feature. Once the stem cell was placed into the pig embryo it was implanted into a sow and left to grow for three to four weeks.
It sounds like the plot of a science fiction film, but it's real: scientists have now managed to get humancells to grow inside a pig embryo, according to an experimentreported in the journal Cell. The stem cells developed into a rat pancreas within the mouse embryo that turned into a full-grown mouse.
Dr Wu said: "When the public hears the world chimera it is always associated with Greek mythology, there is always this associated fear".
Then rat stem cells that included the gene for the pancreas was inserted into the mutant embryos. "Intermediate cells are somewhere in between", says Wu. To out it simply, now scientists have found a way to grow a custom organ inside an animal. Later, the scientists said they removed the creatures, which then died, and studied them. In one method the Izpisua Belmonte lab has designed, Wu explains, cells that threaten to do so can be programmed to self destruct. "We find surviving humancells, but they are not integrated and co-developing", he says.
The team at the Salk Institute attempted to use rat cells to create the pig chimeras, but the test was unsuccessful.
The hybrid embryos grown by the researchers developed the precursors to human pancreatic, liver, gut, lung, heart and muscle cells. Since the generated organ had its genesis in the stem cells from the patient himself, there is very low risk for an immune rejection of the new organ. In the current pig project, experiments were terminated at the embryo stage before the potential chimeric animal was born.
"It does provide a foundation and a glimmer of hope that these human interspecies chimeras may be possible", he said. Scientists' goal is to grow human organs in animals to perform transplants for people.
The ethical concerns focused on the possibility the humancells could create animals that had human brain cells or tissues, blurring the line between the species. However, the experiment is now ineligible for public funding in the United States, reported the National Geographic.
Scientists have created embryos that contain cells from both rats and mice. But they are certain their invention could prove valuable for a range of scientific pursuits, from drug development to regenerative medicine.
In the tissue that would soon develop into the embryonic pig's heart, one out of every 1,000 to 10,000 cells was human. The idea has been around since the 70s, and folks have long voiced concerns about humans contracting animal diseases, and animal rights. That's where phase two - engineering the humancells - comes in. It's so hard to know how you would actually address that?'
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