Researchers in South Korea are expected to transplant pig corneas into humans “within a year”. Several teams in the United States are also preparing to launch clinical trials of xenotransplantation: pig skin transplants on six major burn victims in Boston, and transplants of pig kidneys into adults and pig hearts into newborns in Birmingham (USA). Finally, in Cambridge (USA), the start-up eGenesis is continuing its research to “create pigs whose organs can be safely transplanted into humans” (see eGenesis launches xenotransplantation trial). This objective is shared by other American and European companies.
The first experiments in the 1990s failed due to a rejection reaction within five minutes of transplantation. But in recent years, gene-editing technology has accelerated research to the point that the first clinical trials are now imminent. Using CRISPR, researchers are eliminating genes from the pig genome that cause viruses infectious to humans (see Heading towards organ transplants from genetically modified pigs? To avoid any rejection reaction, they are also working to eliminate markers that identify pig cells as foreign. Recent studies in animals have thus proved more conclusive: baboons with pig hearts have survived 6 months, and even up to 3 years (see Xenotransplantation: baboons survive more than six months with a pig’s heart, Can genetically modified pig hearts counter the organ shortage?). Advances in immunosuppressive treatments could also help support xenotransplantation.
Researchers are not only considering the transplantation of pig organs into humans, but also blood, pancreatic cells to treat diabetic patients, and dopamine-producing cells for patients with Parkinson’s disease.