In a study published [September 21] in the Nature Biomedical Engineering journal, the researchers said they used CRISPR–Cas9 and a combination of other genetic technologies to inactivate porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs), a group of viruses that could be dangerous to humans, while also enhancing the pigs’ immunological and blood-coagulation compatibility with humans, which could reduce the risk of rejection by organ recipients.
The engineered pigs exhibited normal physiology, fertility and transmission of the edited genes to their offspring, according to the paper.
Transplants from pigs have long been investigated as a solution to the global shortage of human organs for patients with organ failure, for reasons such as the size of their organs – similar enough to those of humans – and their relatively short maturity period of about six months.
The risks of organ rejection due to the biological incompatibility of pig organs with human bodies and of transmitting PERVs have limited the clinical applicability of such transplants, but advancements in gene-editing technology have given researchers new hope.
George Church, one of the authors from Harvard Medical School and a co-founder of Hangzhou-based Qihan Bio, was quoted by Chinese news agency Xinhua as saying that if the technology used can be further verified in future research, it could help alleviate the global shortage of human organs to a large extent.