Pig cells transplant potential

5 June 2009

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Category: Research & medical benefits

pig.jpgScientists have found a way to turn adult cells from pigs into any tissue in the body.

The team took cells from a pig's ear, and used a virus to deliver a mix of chemicals into the cells. These chemicals are designed to alter the cells, and reprogram them. After being infected with the virus, the adult cells reverted back to a state similar to that of stem cells and were able to then develop into many types of tissues.

This technology could have many applications. Pigs organs are of a similar size to humans and function in similar ways, so have potential in animal-to-human organ transplants. But there are potential problems relating to virus transmission and rejection of the organs. Even after genetic manipulation, the human immune system recognises pig cells or organs as foreign and attacks them. However, the new technique opens up the possibility of manipulating the immune cells precisely in the pig so they are effectively ‘humanised'. This would lower the chances of rejection, as the transplanted organ would be more compatible with the human immune system.

This work could also lead to better models of human disease, by precision modification of genes in the stem cells to express human genes for diabetes or other diseases. There are implications for farming too, as the technology would allow the manipulation of the pig genome to ensure healthier pigs whose growth could be regulated.