Scientists in Tokyo, Japan want to implant pigs with human stem cells in order to grow genetically engineered pancreases
The genetically modified and pig-grown pancreases could be used to treat patients with a serious case of diabetes in theh future
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Yes, you read that headline correctly. According to a recent news report by Xinhua, scientists at the University of Tokyo intend to use human stem cells to grow pancreases inside pigs for future transplantation. The first project in such an endeavour that involves growing of human organs inside animals is expected to begin in about a year’s time. The project is pending approval from government and university committees at the moment.
Hiromitsu Nakauchi, one of the professors at the University of Tokyo leading the experimental transplantation project, says that the team will use human-introduced pluripotent stem cells (or iPS cells) to reproduce pancreases. More specifically, the team will inject human iPS cells into a pig embryo that’s genetically modified to lose the ability to develop a pancreas. The team of scientists will then place the embryo in a surrogate sow’s womb. For reference, a sow is a female pig. The team will then remove the foetus before delivery to study the amount of pancreas tissue derived from the human iPS cells and its ability to function.
The team of scientists in Tokyo hopes that these genetically modified pancreases can be used to treat patients with a serious case of diabetes in a period of ten years. According to Xihua’s report, the Ministry of Education and Science in Japan okayed the controversial research process involving the use of animals as hosts for growing human organs on March 1. The ministry’s decision to approve the undertaking of such a project could potentially open more doors for other Japanese researchers with similar experiments and studies.
That said, the Japanese government reportedly still prohibits the placement of fertilised animal eggs containing human cells in human wombs and the use of animals developed through such genetic engineering for the purpose of breeding. Many questions in the realm of ethics have been raised in the past. Recently, scientists in China injected monkeys with human brain genes in an attempt to create transgenic monkeys and study the evolution of human intelligence.
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