In my last blog (Genetically Modified Human Cow's Milk?) we saw how Chinese geneticists modified 300 dairy cows so they can produce "human" breast milk.
Little did I know that their Japanese counterparts were doing something similar with pigs!
According to a recent Telegraph article, the Japanese are growing GM engineered organs in animals (rats, mice, pigs) to ultimately replace faulty human parts.
The researchers injected stem cells from rats into the embryos of mice that had been genetically altered so they could not produce their own organs. The result? Mice with rat organs.
They have already produced pigs that were able to generate human blood by injecting blood stem cells from humans into pig foetuses.
The researchers say the technique could allow pigs to grow human organs from patient's stem cells for use as transplants.
By using a patient's own stem cells it could help to reduce the risk of the transplanted organ being rejected while also providing a plentiful supply of donor organs.
At the European Society of Human Genetics, Professor Hiromitsu Nakauchi of Tokyo University declared: "Our ultimate goal is to generate human organs from induced pluripotent stem cells. The technique, called blastocyst complementation, provides us with a novel approach for organ supply. We have successfully tried it between mice and rats. We are now rather confident in generating functional human organs using this approach."
Let’s look at exactly what they did.
What exactly did the Scientists do?
Rat cells were injected into the embryos, or blastocysts of mice that were unable to grow their own pancreas, the organ that produces important hormones including insulin. Why unable? They were genetically engineered that way. That made newborn mice diabetic. Then the mice were injected with stem cells from rats with healthy pancreases and as the mice matured they grew pancreases and were no longer diabetic.
When the mice matured to adulthood, they showed no signs of diabetes and had developed a pancreas that was almost entirely formed from the injected rat stem cells.
The scientists claim the rat stem cells grew in the niche left by the absent mouse pancreas and so almost any organ could be produced in this way.
If replicated using human stem cells, the technique could produce a way of treating diabetic patients by providing a way of replacing their pancreas.
Professor Nakauchi said they hoped to further test the technique by growing other organs and were also seeking permission to use human stem cells.
He said: "For ethical reasons we cannot make an organ deficient human embryo and use it for blastocyst complementation. So to generate human organs, we must use this technique using blastocysts of livestock animals such as pigs instead. Blastocyst complementation across species had never been tested before, but we have now shown that it can work."
Professor Chris Mason, chair of regenerative medicine at University College London, said: "There is no doubt that curing diabetes is challenging, but this could be a potential way forward albeit a very long shot requiring sustained resources and major finance for its testing and development."
"For something like a kidney transplant where it is not urgent, it would be highly attractive to be able to take cells from a patient, grow them in this way and deliver a personalised kidney."
"There is a long way to go before it could result in useable transplants, but it is an exciting vision."
An “exciting vision”?
What do you think?
- The cruelty to the animals and to paraphrase Ghandi: "A society's morality can be determined by its treatment of animals” (though is this any worse or better than factory farming and large slaughter houses?)
- Why the focus on the cut, splice and stitch versus natural healing? For example, replacing the pancreas is not the only cure for diabetes. What about lifestyle modifications which focus on healthy unprocessed nutrition, exercise, relaxation, acupuncture, detoxification etc?
- It is true that the need for organ transplants far exceeds supply. It is also true that many who have had transplants are delighted. Some even had cow and pig insulin prior to human insulin. So we must not forget the potential benefits of organ transplants. The issue of course is whether doing it the ‘Japanese’ way really is wise?
Your comments welcome.