FEB 25, 2017 10:52 AM PST

How Pigs Can Help Transplant Patients Get Off the Waitlist

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) tabulated that 122,563 people currently are in need of a lifesaving organ transplant. They estimate that on average, 22 people die each day while waiting for a transplant didn't happen, because of a shortage in human organ donations. But what if we look elsewhere for organs to transplant?

Indeed, scientists have looked to other animals as potential organ donors, a process known as xenotransplantation. Pigs are, surprisingly enough, considered the next best candidate for providing organs for human transplants. The organs of the pig are exposed to a similar immune system as humans, and also shares similar functions and a close size match to ours. Already pigs have been of great service to medicine, as doctors have been replacing damaged human heart valves with pig valves for the past 50 years.

In addition, scientists have found a few ways to block a pig antigen called α-1,3-galactose that seems to trigger most of the immune responses. They've created a pig that's entirely missing the α-gal, removing the antigen completely. Advances with gene editing techniques like CRISPR-Cas9 will also prove pivotal in overcoming immune challenges with cross-species organ transplantation. Watch the video to learn more about how these animals are transforming transplant medicine.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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