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'Humanised' lungs for transplant patients to be grown in pigs

12 May 2014
Appeared in BioNews 753

The shortage of transplantable lungs available for people with end-stage lung disease is being addressed in a new project led by genome scientist Dr Craig Venter.

In a US $50 million research and development deal, Lung Biotechnology, a unit of United Therapeutics, has teamed up with Synthetic Genomics to genetically engineer pigs whose organs can be safely transplanted into a human body.

'We believe this is one of the most exciting and important programs ever undertaken in modern medical science', said Dr Venter, CEO of Synthetic Genomics.

Approximately 400,000 people die annually from different forms of lung disease in the US, and very few of these deaths could be avoided due to the serious shortage of transplantable human lungs, according to United Therapeutics.

Scientists at Synthetic Genome will edit the pig genome so that it is compatible with humans, to avoid the common problem of transplanted organs being rejected by the immune system.

'We're going to start with generating a brand new super-accurate sequence of the pig genome, and then go through in detail and compare it to the human genome', Venter told Reuters. 'The goal is to go in and edit, and where necessary, rewrite using our synthetic genomic tools, the pig genes that seem to be associated with immune responses', he added.

Researchers at United Therapeutics will then work with these genetically altered cell and input them into pig eggs. The purpose of this is to generate embryos, which will develop into pigs with 'humanised' lungs.

'Our combined expertise should enable us to develop an unlimited supply of transplantable organs, potentially helping millions of patients who die from end-stage organ disease', said Dr Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics.

Dr Venter believes that his team may be able to develop these edited cells within a few years. However, clinical trials in humans would take an additional few years.

Dr Daniel Salomon, president of the American Society of Transplantation, commented on this project, saying: 'I have no doubt that Dr Venter and colleagues can develop a very fine genetic map of the pig. But genetically engineering this into a human-compatible organ is a huge leap'.

10 March 2014 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Dr Craig Venter, founder of Celera Genomics and one of the first to sequence the human genome, has teamed up with stem cell pioneer Dr Robert Hariri and X Prize Foundation founder, Dr Peter Diamandi...
9 December 2013 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) have been transformed into lung and airway cells for the first time...
18 November 2013 - by Siobhan Chan 
Heart failure can be reversed using gene therapy, with the effect being amplified when two genes are used together, a study in pigs has found...
15 April 2013 - by David O'Rourke 
Synthetic biology is being used in the hunt for a vaccine for H7N9, the new strain of bird flu emerging in China, with hopes it could shave a vital two weeks off the development process...
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