A landmark study has reopened the door for xenotransplantation research (research into interspecies transplants).
A team of Chinese and US scientists have created gene-edited piglets that are free of harmful viruses that cause disease in humans. Scientists now believe that pig organs can be edited to prevent rejection when transplanted into the human body.
In a paper published in the journal Science on Thursday, researchers reported that they had successfully used CRISPR technology to “splice out” 25 porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) from the genetic code of 37 piglets. The viruses are scattered throughout the pig genome and have the potential to cause bizarre and harmful retroviral infections in humans.
While safe and effective pig-to-human organ transplants are a long way off, the researchers are optimistic.
"We recognise we are still at the early stages of research and development”, Dr Luhan Yang, a coauthor of the paper, told the BBC. "We know we have an audacious vision of a world with no shortage of organs, that is very challenging, but that is also our motivation to remove mountains."
The next stage of the research, Yang says, will be to essentially “humanize” the pigs—modifying them enough that their organs can function in the human body. This involves immunological changes as well as making the tissues compatible and fixing blood-clotting issues.
Animal rights groups have expressed concern at the research, saying that xenotransplantation may eventually lead to astronomical numbers of pigs being exploited to grow human-like organs.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
In a recent article in the American Journal of Bioethics, bioethicist Art Caplan and three colleagues call for a complete overhaul of the venerable Belmont Report (see below). This is the 1979 US government report which set out three famous principles which have governed human research ever since: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice.
Most government reports are already gathering dust within a few months after their publication. But the Belmont Report’s influence has been enormous, as it shaped the bioethical framework for clinical and research decision-making in the US and many other countries as well.
Caplan & Co make a good case for revising the standards in the light of experience and changing times. But it comes at an awkward moment: the Trump Presidency. What kind of commission would Mr Trump create to study this issue? Perhaps a noisy and truculent one, a bull in the bioethics china shop. Be careful what you wish for?
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