Tuesday, 24 October, 2017

Jumping Genes Inactivated with CRISPR in Pigs

Harvard geneticist George Church Harvard geneticist George Church Credit Harvard
Marlene Weaver | 11 August, 2017, 01:40

The world has a big organ shortage problem: nearly 120,000 people are now waiting for a transplant in the USA, and more than 20 people die each day waiting for a new organ.

The research, published today in Science, showed that some of the problems with xenotransplantation, the process of transplanting organs or tissue between different species, could be overcome with gene-editing techniques.

First, the researchers proved that PERVs can be transmitted from pig to human cells and transmitted among human cells, even in conditions in which the fresh human cells have no prior exposure to pig cells.

But a breakthrough using CRISPR gene editing technology paves the way for pigs free of PERVs.

Scientists on Thursday announced a breakthrough in producing the first batch of live pigs free of unsafe viruses, setting the stage for transplanting life-saving organs from the animals into humans. This adds to the growing number of transplants that are already in relatively widespread use in medicine (heart valves, skin grafts for burn patients, etc.). While most major religious groups say pig organs are acceptable in the case of lifesaving transplantation, one example that could be a problem for Jewish and Muslim patients is accepting a kidney transplant, because dialysis is a viable alternative.

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"There are other issues that will limit the clinical application of xenotransplantation other than these viruses", says Mohiuddin, referring to the immune response the body generates against a transplanted animal organ.

Scientists have genetically modified pigs to remove potentially risky viruses from their DNA, which could have been passed to humans. The first, Yang told Business Insider in March, is the virology, or the fact that pigs carry genes encoded with viruses that could transmit disease to humans - that's the PERV genes that Egenesis is working to deactivate.

MIT Technology Review reports that eGenesis has so far produced 37 gene-edited pigs. "Our animal is probably the most [genetically] modified animal on the Earth", says Luhan Yang, co-founder and chief science officer of eGenesis, the Cambridge, Mass. -based start-up that led the research. Those embryos were implanted into sows and then became piglets.

"About 22 people a day die waiting for a transplant", he said. The research is basically a "safety check", says Pablo Ross, a geneticist at the University of California, Davis, who did not take part in the study. As a result, Church had wondered if they play an essential role in the pig's survival and whether the animals could develop properly without them.

Dr. David Cooper, at UAB, and his colleagues, including Tector, have used gene editing and cloning to make pigs without the carbohydrates on the surfaces of their organs. Now, without the threat of these hidden diseases, it may be possible to safely transplant pig livers, hearts, and other organs.

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