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posted by janrinok on Thursday August 13 2015, @11:53PM   Printer-friendly
from the with-free-curly-tail dept.

Donated human organs are in such short supply that thousands of people die waiting for one every year. U.S. researchers have been shattering records in xenotransplantation, or between-species organ transplants.

The researchers say they have kept a pig heart alive in a baboon for 945 days and also reported the longest-ever kidney swap between these species, lasting 136 days. The experiments used organs from pigs "humanized" with the addition of as many as five human genes, a strategy designed to stop organ rejection.

The GM pigs are being produced in Blacksburg, Virginia, by Revivicor, a division of the biotechnology company United Therapeutics. That company's founder and co-CEO, Martine Rothblatt, is a noted futurist who four years ago began spending millions to supply researchers with pig organs and has quickly become the largest commercial backer of xenotransplantation research.

Rothblatt says her goal is to create "an unlimited supply of transplantable organs" and to carry out the first successful pig-to-human lung transplant within a few years. One of her daughters has a usually fatal lung condition called pulmonary arterial hypertension. In addition to GM pigs, her company is carrying out research on tissue-engineered lungs and cryopreservation of organs. "We're turning xenotransplantation from what looked like a kind of Apollo-level problem into just an engineering task," she says.

Original Submission

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Pigs Being Engineered to Save Your Bacon 15 comments

Nature reports on advances in the genetic modification of pigs to create safer organs for human transplants:

For decades, scientists and doctors have dreamed of creating a steady supply of human organs for transplantation by growing them in pigs, as we have reported here. But concerns about rejection by the human immune system and infection by viruses embedded in the pig genome have stymied research. Now, by modifying more than 60 genes in pig embryos — ten times more than have been edited in any other animal — researchers believe they may have produced a suitable non-human organ donor.

The work was presented on 5 October at a meeting of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington DC on human gene editing. Geneticist George Church of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, announced that he and colleagues had used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology to inactivate 62 porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) in pig embryos. These viruses are embedded in all pigs' genomes and cannot be treated or neutralized. It is feared that they could cause disease in human transplant recipients.

There have been several CRISPR stories in the news in the last few years since, and there seems no reason to think that there won't be ever more intrusive modifications in the future. Which leads one to question whether there's will be a point down the road where we're literally building a new animal. Finding possible ethical issues is like shooting fish in a barrel - for example, if we can create pigs, or other animals, which regenerate organs, and then we can keep harvesting those organs for the entire life of the animal.

More on CRISPR here:

Original Submission

Scientists Grow Sheep Embryos Containing Human Cells 8 comments

Breakthrough as scientists grow sheep embryos containing human cells

Growing human organs inside other animals has taken another step away from science-fiction, with researchers announcing they have grown sheep embryos containing human cells.

Scientists say growing human organs inside animals could not only increase supply, but also offer the possibility of genetically tailoring the organs to be compatible with the immune system of the patient receiving them, by using the patient's own cells in the procedure, removing the possibility of rejection. [...] "Even today the best matched organs, except if they come from identical twins, don't last very long because with time the immune system continuously is attacking them," said Dr Pablo Ross from the University of California, Davis, who is part of the team working towards growing human organs in other species.

[...] Ross and colleagues have recently reported a major breakthrough for our own species, revealing they were able to introduce human stem cells into early pig embryos, producing embryos for which about one in every 100,000 cells were human. These chimeras – a term adopted from Greek mythology – were only allowed to develop for 28 days.

Now, at this week's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, Texas, the team have announced that they have managed a similar feat with sheep embryos, achieving an even higher ratio of human to animal cells. "About one in 10,000 cells in these sheep embryos are human," said Ross.

Japan is expected to lift a ban on growing human organs inside of animals.

Here's another article about pig-to-human organ transplants.

Also at The Telegraph.

Related: Surgeons Smash Records With Pig-to-Primate Organ Transplants
Human-Animal Chimeras are Gestating on U.S. Research Farms
Pig Hearts Survive in Baboons for More than Two Years
NIH Plans To Lift Ban On Research Funds For Human-Animal Chimera Embryos
Human-Pig 'Chimera Embryos' Detailed
Rat-Mouse Chimeras Offer Hope for Diabetics
eGenesis Bio Removes PERV From Pigs Using CRISPR

Original Submission

Man Who Received a Heart Transplant From a Pig Has Died 16 comments

A man who got the 1st pig heart transplant has died after 2 months

The first person to receive a heart transplant from a pig has died, two months after the groundbreaking experiment, the Maryland hospital that performed the surgery announced Wednesday.

David Bennett, 57, died Tuesday at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Doctors didn't give an exact cause of death, saying only that his condition had begun deteriorating several days earlier.

[...] Prior attempts at such transplants — or xenotransplantation — have failed largely because patients' bodies rapidly rejected the animal organ. This time, the Maryland surgeons used a heart from a gene-edited pig: Scientists had modified the animal to remove pig genes that trigger the hyper-fast rejection and add human genes to help the body accept the organ.

At first the pig heart was functioning, and the Maryland hospital issued periodic updates that Bennett seemed to be slowly recovering. Last month, the hospital released video of him watching the Super Bowl from his hospital bed while working with his physical therapist.

Bennett survived significantly longer with the gene-edited pig heart than one of the last milestones in xenotransplantation — when Baby Fae, a dying California infant, lived 21 days with a baboon's heart in 1984.

[...] One next question is whether scientists have learned enough from Bennett's experience and some other recent experiments with gene-edited pig organs to persuade the FDA to allow a clinical trial — possibly with an organ such as a kidney that isn't immediately fatal if it fails.

Previously: Surgeons Smash Records With Pig-to-Primate Organ Transplants
Surgeons Successfully Transplant Genetically Modified Pig Heart Into Human Patient

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 2) by mendax on Friday August 14 2015, @01:37AM

    by mendax (2840) on Friday August 14 2015, @01:37AM (#222618)

    While I am a fan of medical research, I'm on the fence as to the morality of this kind of transplantation, especially from pigs, being the highly intelligent and possibly sentient beings that they are. Having said that, pork is very tasty and I've eaten more than my share of bacon and other pork products. So, call me a hypocrite.

    It's really quite a simple choice: Life, Death, or Los Angeles.
    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by takyon on Friday August 14 2015, @02:04AM

      by takyon (881) <> on Friday August 14 2015, @02:04AM (#222629) Journal

      You're a hypocrite.

      Maybe lab-grown organs will pan out and eliminate the need for slaughter, but this could be orders of magnitude cheaper.

      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
      • (Score: 2) by mendax on Friday August 14 2015, @02:12AM

        by mendax (2840) on Friday August 14 2015, @02:12AM (#222634)

        Thank you.

        It's really quite a simple choice: Life, Death, or Los Angeles.
      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by mcgrew on Friday August 14 2015, @08:38PM

        by mcgrew (701) <> on Friday August 14 2015, @08:38PM (#222997) Homepage Journal

        I have no time frame, but I'm sure in the future you'll be able to regrow a hand that was eaten by a garbage disposal, but if your heart is gone, a pig's heart could keep you alive until your replacement finishes regrowing, or until we can regrow hearts, until a donor is found.

        My cousin, who taught college in the state of Washington (I've forgotten which university) thought she had the flu, then thought she was having a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. The doctor was knowledgeable enough to know it wasn't a heart attack, that he had neither the equipment nor knowledge to do anything and had her airlifted to a hospital that did.

        She'd had a severe viral infection of her heart, so they amputated her heart. She was bedridden for six months, with a machine pumping her blood, until a donor could be found -- and after the donor heart was installed she was in a wheelchair for another year. She seems to be fine now.

        Had they had one of these bioengineered pig hearts, she may have been back at the university in a few weeks, healthily waiting for a human donor.

        Free Martian whores! []
    • (Score: 5, Informative) by hemocyanin on Friday August 14 2015, @04:46AM

      by hemocyanin (186) on Friday August 14 2015, @04:46AM (#222682) Journal

      Well, I feel a similar cringe with the idea of slaughtering pigs for human pleasure, and I put my feelings into practice over ten years ago by giving up eating mammals.

      As for sentience, pigs are undoubtedly sentient. []

      Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively.

      Anyone who has ever had a dog or cat, especially two or more at once, would recognize that even if they don't think in the same way or the same level as we do, they certainly have subjective preferences for any number of things (food, games, how they like to be petted, emotional responses to human mood/behavior). Even a sense of fairness. I've watched my cats groom one another, one will start on another, then stop, and position him or herself toward the other to get the same treatment back. The body language is unquestionable. I've petted my cats, and afterward, they've had a go at licking my hair. I don't particularly like that, but I recognize that sense of reciprocity. For example, after you've bought a friend a drink, that friend probably buys one for you because for most people, it feels good to return the favor. It's been reversed too, with the cat starting by licking my hair, then asking me to pet him or her. That's proactively being nice to get something nice in return, not just a reaction to me being nice. That's planning.

      I'm not saying that humans and other mammals are identical -- it too is obvious we are not -- but when there is a great deal of commonality even between a big brained human and walnut brained housecat, that's instructive. Anyway, I figure the popularity of failing to make these observations, is because it makes it easier to ignore the daily suffering we inflict on other sentient beings.

      Finally, I'm not pure. I do eat meat outside my class, but eating within mammalia feels cannibalistic due to the blatant similarities I share with other mammals.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by mhajicek on Friday August 14 2015, @05:00AM

        by mhajicek (51) on Friday August 14 2015, @05:00AM (#222689)

        While I haven't chosen that path, I understand it. Getting a viable organ for transplant though is worth a lot more than a few tasty meals.

        The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
      • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Friday August 14 2015, @08:52PM

        by mcgrew (701) <> on Friday August 14 2015, @08:52PM (#223000) Homepage Journal

        Even flies have been shown to know fear. It would seem that for any animal no matter what kind, fear and some measure of sentience is necessary for survival.

        My grandparents had a small farm with a large garden, pigs, chickens, cows, a mule, a dog... I forget what else. Grandpa had no problem slaughtering a pig, except for the stench -- he had a meat plant butcher them after that. Pigs stink even worse cut open than they do when they're alive.

        But the first cow he butchered was his last; he cried as he put the .22 into its brain. "It was the way she looked at me," he said.

        All animals have feelings, and all animals have some degree of sentience. Sentience is a chemical phenomenon, as is everything else about life.

        Like pigs, humans are omnivores. We need to eat both plants and animals, unlike cows and wolves. And everything dies. And who's to say plants have no feelings? How could you even test a hypothesis like that?

        Free Martian whores! []
        • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Saturday August 15 2015, @01:42AM

          by Phoenix666 (552) on Saturday August 15 2015, @01:42AM (#223100) Journal

          It's surprising to hear your grandfather was attached to his farm animals. My friends from farming families were punished for treating the food animals like pets, and their friends were highly discouraged from doing so as well when they came over. It seemed hard to me to differentiate the animals like that, because I love animals. But it was a very bright line in their minds. On the one side, love and affection, on the other cold, clinical detachment.

          Washington DC delenda est.
          • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Sunday August 16 2015, @10:37PM

            by mcgrew (701) <> on Sunday August 16 2015, @10:37PM (#223657) Homepage Journal

            It wasn't that he was attached to the cow, it was just a cow. It was the way it looked at him.

            OTOH a friend of mine used to raise hogs, and one bit both him and his son. He says that pig was the best tasting pork he ever ate.

            Free Martian whores! []
      • (Score: 2) by mendax on Friday August 14 2015, @10:35PM

        by mendax (2840) on Friday August 14 2015, @10:35PM (#223038)

        My evil black cat is sentient. There is no doubt about it. She, like all other house cats, is very good at training her human to do what she wants done to her. I am her slave.

        There is a scene in a Star Trek novel I read decades ago when I regularly read those things. It was an encounter between a human with a cat on his shoulder and a Kzinti-like technological sophisticated cat species. The Kzinti-like creature was horrified that the human would enslave a fellow sentient creature. The human replied that he was not certain who was enslaving whom.

        It's really quite a simple choice: Life, Death, or Los Angeles.
    • (Score: 1) by zaxus on Friday August 14 2015, @06:45PM

      by zaxus (3455) on Friday August 14 2015, @06:45PM (#222945)

      Of course, there is the idea that if we start growing most pigs with xenotransplantable organs, your bacon pig wouldn't have died in vain, and may have actually saved several peoples' lives.

      Yes, you read that right. SAVING LIVES WITH BACON, PEOPLE! BAM!

      "I do have a cause, though. It is obscenity...I'm for it." - Tom Lerher
  • (Score: 5, Funny) by Username on Friday August 14 2015, @01:56AM

    by Username (4557) on Friday August 14 2015, @01:56AM (#222625)

    The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 14 2015, @03:31AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 14 2015, @03:31AM (#222666)

    One of the problems with organ transplants is that the recipient must then take anti-rejection medicine for the rest of their life (which makes the more vulnerable to infections). If we are using animals to grow organs, especially genetically modified animals, is it possible to splice in enough of the recipient's DNA to make the organ 'compatible' enough to reduce or eliminate the need for anti-rejection medicine?

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Gravis on Friday August 14 2015, @05:08AM

    by Gravis (4596) on Friday August 14 2015, @05:08AM (#222694)

    xenotransplantation is very interesting but i think we will have more success by taking organs, removing the cells and then growing new cells with our own DNA in the remaining collagen scaffolding. it's not a new thing [] but i think it has the most promise. of course you could take organs from animals then grow human cells in them but i dont think it's needed since collagen scaffolding in cadavers is still harvestable for many hours.

    • (Score: 1, Flamebait) by mcgrew on Friday August 14 2015, @08:59PM

      by mcgrew (701) <> on Friday August 14 2015, @08:59PM (#223005) Homepage Journal

      I don't think you've given that much thought. Grow a heart on a scaffold? A liver? However, I'm sure sooner or later they'll figure out how to grow whole new organs inside your body with no scaffolds needed.

      But both are far in the future; in their infancy now. Pig hearts are real, NOW.

      Free Martian whores! []
      • (Score: 2) by Gravis on Saturday August 15 2015, @09:38AM

        by Gravis (4596) on Saturday August 15 2015, @09:38AM (#223203)

        I don't think you've given that much thought. Grow a heart on a scaffold

        LOL! they did that [] almost a decade ago.

        • (Score: 1, Flamebait) by mcgrew on Sunday August 16 2015, @10:34PM

          by mcgrew (701) <> on Sunday August 16 2015, @10:34PM (#223654) Homepage Journal

          No scaffolds (and I didn't know it was that advanced, thank you). From the link: "Researchers have created a beating heart in the laboratory. By using a process called whole organ decellularization, scientists grew functioning heart tissue by taking dead rat and pig hearts and reseeding them with a mixture of live cells."


          Free Martian whores! []
          • (Score: 2) by Gravis on Monday August 17 2015, @03:52PM

            by Gravis (4596) on Monday August 17 2015, @03:52PM (#223973)

            No scaffolds

            the collagen is the scaffolding! just because it's not 3d printed or some jazz doesn't mean it's not scaffolding.

  • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 14 2015, @09:00AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 14 2015, @09:00AM (#222747)

    You may prefer CDs or MP3s to records, but that's still no reason to smash them.

  • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Friday August 14 2015, @08:17PM

    by mcgrew (701) <> on Friday August 14 2015, @08:17PM (#222987) Homepage Journal

    Any time I hear the word "futurist" attached to someone, I snicker and my estimation of him or her goes down. I'll have a journal about this when I post the futurist essay by Hugo Gernsback, written in 1926 (two decades before the word "futurist" was used as it is today). It's the last item in Yesterday's Tomorrows.

    When I was a kid, futurists were promising flying cars by this century, but nobody had a clue that we would have photography without film, phones in our pockets, or the internet (Except Murray Leinster, and I doubt he thought his fiction was prophetic).

    When a futurist says something, think about the Gernsback essay (It will be up at my web site shortly). He says in his essay "The chances are that if someone runs across this fifty years from now, he will severely condemn the writer of this for his great lack of imagination, for, no matter how wild the predictions may seem now, they will look very tame fifty years hence."

    That was not nearly as absurd as some of his predictions, but was 100% incorrect anyway.

    In the foreword to the book and introduction to Gernsback's essay I have a lot more to say about futurism.

    Free Martian whores! []