The eGenesis start-up project has collected €38 million to finance porcine DNA modification trials. The aim is to create organ reservoirs for human transplants. Scientists will use the CRISPR genome editing technique to introduce genetic modifications into porcine cells to make pig organs compatible with human organs.
eGenesis is an initiative of Harvard geneticist, Georges Church. In 2015, he and Luhan Yang showed that genome editing could eliminate latent viruses in the pig genome. They are considering even broader genome modifications in their next trial.
Xenotransplantation is not a new concept but initial trials conducted in the 1990s proved inconclusive. Pig and baboon organs triggered serious immune reactions and were quickly destroyed in the human body. The risk of spreading infectious diseases between both species also hampered research in this area. CRISPR has revived hopes. Last year’s trial involving pigs and baboons proved positive (see Could genetically modified pig hearts stem the organ shortage?).
eGenesis is currently working with porcine cells in the laboratory. On the one hand, tests are underway to “humanise” the pig’s immune system and, on the other hand, these cells are “purged” of any risk-related virus. Once these techniques have been developed, scientists are considering cloning these cells and transferring them to an egg to “create a pig embryo”, which will then be transferred to a “surrogate sow”.
MIT Technology Review, Karen Weintraub (16/03/2017)