U.S. researchers have used a new gene editing technique to trim away potentially harmful virus genes that have impeded the use of pig organs for transplants in humans. The study, published in the journal Science, expands on capabilities of the genome editing tool known as CRISPR–Cas9, which works as a type of molecular scissors that can selectively trim away unwanted parts of the genome. Previous efforts with the technology have only managed to cut away six areas of the genome at one go. In the latest study led by Dr. George Church, a geneticist from Harvard Medical School, researchers simultaneously snipped away genetic material in 62 specific locations in the pig genome.
While Church’s team has shown that it is feasible to drastically edit the genome of pigs to remove native pig viruses from pig cells, it has not shown that such organs would be safe to use in people. Still, Church said in a statement he believes the technology will one day make it possible for pig organs to be used as a substitute for human organs for patients in need of a transplant and for whom there are no suitable donor organs. FULL REPORT