Human-Pig Chimeras Suggest a Long Road to Organ Farming

Scientists implanted adult human stem cells - known as intermediate induced pluripotent stem cells - into pig embryos and allowed them to grow for four weeks. That contribution is lower than expected, he said, "but we were very happy to see we actually can see the human cells after four weeks of development".

The work to try this in humans and pigs is already under way.

That goal is still far off, but that doesn't mean the experiment is useless for the time being.

Animals with cells from different species are called chimeras. There has been a lot of interest in recent years in creating animal/human chimeras - the process of a DNA molecule with sequences derived from two or more different organisms, formed by laboratory manipulation. The human cells also seemed to slow the overall growth rate. To that end, a study published today in the journal Cell accomplished an important first step-growing pig embryos that contain human cells. However, the researchers had not get success in such experiments until Wednesday, but on Thursday the scientist got success in the experiment. So, to hypothetically develop specific human organs in a pig, researchers would first have to construct a pig that can not make a certain organ.

The cells generated the precursors of muscle, heart, pancreas, liver and spinal cord tissue in the embryos.

In future research, Wu said, Salk scientists will explore how to increase the concentration of human cells in certain organs (such as the heart).

"What this paper shows is that if you inject early developmental cells from humans into the another species" embryo at the same developmental stage then they are better able to "take' and contribute to the final growing embryo", he said.

Most notably, they were also able to grow a gallbladder inside the mouse from rat stem cells, which is unique because rats don't even have gallbladders.

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"Each mouse was healthy and had a normal lifespan, which indicated that the development proceeded properly", Jun Wu, a Salk staff scientist, said in a news release.

"This highlights the importance of the host environment in controlling organ development and evolutionary speciation". Perhaps surprisingly, the youngest stem cells, previously seen with the most potential, were less effective than slightly older ones. After 21 to 28 days, 186 embryos were harvested.

A third experiment kicked it up a notch - they added human stem cells to clusters of embryonic pig cells, and to embryonic cow cells, forming two new chimeras. Then the researchers planned to introduce human stem cells into an organism.

The experiments have also stirred a controversy as it could theoretically lead to the creation of animals with human qualities, reported AFP. Even a pig fetus might provide human pancreatic cells to treat diabetes, or kidney cells to fix injuries to that organ, they said.

Then they went a step further. Ethicists fear that the human cells, injected into a pig's body with the intention of producing human organs, might travel to the brain and create a sentient pig with human thoughts.

Pigs organs are roughly the same size as humans and although scientists thought this could be the answer, our immune systems often reject animal tissue.

A group of scientists from the Salk Institute conducted a series of experiments that consisted on the implantation of human stem cells in early pig embryos.

He said this allows the researchers to ask the question: when these cells die are there any cells nearby that can replace them? About 30 million Americans have diabetes; more than 3 million of them rely on artificial insulin to stay alive. He's referring to a biological mechanism he and his colleagues, led by Pope Francis-approved chimera pioneer Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, Ph.D., devised to prevent human cells from straying into parts of the body that could cause ethical concerns - the brain, in particular. "It might have human-type needs".


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