Nov 15, 2018

Pigs are the next organ donors


Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Some 20 people die every day waiting for organ transplants, and many improvements to our daily lives — like safer cars and longer life expectancy — will likely make that problem worse.

Driving the news: But scientists are pushing hard toward a solution: Genetically modified and wildly inbred pigs. "Pigs have been quietly insinuating their way into our bodies for some time now," the New York Times Magazine writes in an in-depth profile of the scientists working to engineer pig organs into a suitable replacement for human ones.

How it works, per NYT:

  • Pigs' organs contain antigens that the human body naturally tries to fight, so we often reject unmodified pigs' organs. But scientists have modified a breed of pigs to remove the problematic PERV gene.
  • Yes, it's really called the PERV gene.
  • With that taken care of, biotech money has flowed in, and one company's strain of pigs "were used by a team in Maryland to keep a pig heart beating in a baboon for 945 days."

What's next: "The first pig-to-human skin graft using live cells is set to take place this month in Boston," the NYT reports, and an upcoming clinical trial "will install ... pigs’ kidneys in dialysis patients who are unlikely to be considered for human-donor organs."

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