GM Cows and now GM Pigs?

August 2011, Xtend-Life Expert

Summary

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!

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?

Consider:

  1. 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?)
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

4 Comments

  • “Thank you for your good points Murray. Re should we distinguish between killing animals for food or for replacement parts? Like you I respect vegetarianism. For me the key issue with this is not about if animals are killed or not. Rather, if they are killed my concern is how they are treated and killed. I endorse again Ghandi’s view that "A society’s morality can be determined by its treatment of animals. So in that sense, no distinction should be made! Thanks Caramia”

    Xtend-Life Expert - September 05 2011

  • “Survival is a primal urge (not to say, individual need). 1. Developing a prey animal (pigs, cattle), for human use. Is not the issue here one of the morality of farming itself? These animals, in the wild, are our natural prey and have been through several stages of hominid development. We humans are no longer hunter-gatherers (with the associated risks) and vegetarians aside, we still "prey" on pigs and cattle – if in a different and more organised manner. So should we make a distinction between killing the animal for food (to survive), or killing the animal for replacement parts – also ensuring survival? N.B. I am not a vegetarian – I respect their views and hope that those who choose to live that way, show equal respect for my lifestyle. Proselytizing a lifestyle choice is not the question. 2.Your point is valid and an important one – however once the pancreas/kidney/heart/liver/lung (whatever), has degenerated beyond a certain level, lifestyle modifications such as you suggest may no longer be a viable option. To survive – and again as above – survival is an intensely personal objective! 3. Much that we humans do "is not wise"! In this case – we elect to eat meat of an animal that would, in most countries, have a natural predator killing it for food. Humans are one of those predators – reiterating the first point above. ”

    Murray - September 04 2011

  • “Unprocessed Nutrition is a weird way of putting it. Eating food straight from the garden with no pesticides is Organic food. Organic food is the safest & the only way to get real nutrition from your food. Type 2 Diabetics do have the luxary of healing themselves of this disabling disease. But how many Type 2 Diebetics know that it takes real food; not processed food? (how many know the difference)? Diabetics with Type 1 do not have the same luxary as Type 2. Unfortunately real food will not heal their disabling disease. But eating nutritious whole food (unprocessed) is a start for preventing most diseases from ever starting. TRUE FACT”

    kari - October 23 2011

  • “That’s nice that you two respect vegetarianism (I am one), but I feel that it has nothing to do with vegetarianism but everything to do with how we treat these 9 billions of animals (yes, billions, not millions-this is an annual figure) that we raise for food in the US alone. You can eat meat in some reasonable quantity as a means of survival and be an ethical person but the way we do it here and in other "developed" countries is abomination and because of that we can not call ourselves "ethical people". There is many DVDs and books about it but one I recently read is very enlightening and if you are true to yourself, please read it. It is titled "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer. If these animals were raised and slaughtered humanly in numbers that were more consistent with true needs of humans for survival than I would be more understanding but such is not the case. As far as using animals for producing replaceable organs for humans I have mixed feelings. If I could save my child’s life by accepting such organ I have no daubt I would agree to such procedere. On the other hand, to save untold number of people (read: to destroy corresponding number of animals) from creating their own demise by living very unhealthy lifestyles, I have a problem with that; beacause ultimatly, were does it lead us to? Bringing to life these billions upon billions of animals so we can slaughtet them, take their billions upon billions of hearts, lungs, pancreas, etc. and transplant them into our billions upon billions of weisted bodies, so we, the "HUMANS", can survive? Horrible picture. I don’t want to live in that kind of world.”

    Krzysztof Falkowski - September 18 2011

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