Scientists at a US lab are hard at work on an ambitious and certainly remarkable mission: modifying pork liver in hopes of one day exaggeration them into human bodies.
Miromatrix, a Minnesota-based company, plans to begin testing liver bioengineering on patients in 2023.
“This may sound like science fiction to the average person, but I can tell you that even to the average transplant surgeon, or maybe not so average transplant surgeon, it still sounds a bit like science fiction,” says Dr. Sander Florman, chief of transplant at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. .
“But it’s an amazing time, it’s a new era.”
Mount Sinai is one of several hospitals that plan to participate in the first trials of engineered livers.
Pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration, the first experiments will be conducted outside the patient’s body. Scientists would place a pig turned into a human liver next to a hospital bed to temporarily filter the blood of a person whose own liver suddenly failed.
Making ‘human-like’ pork liver
The adaptation of pig liver to human bodies involves making a kind of liver scaffold from the animal’s organ.
First, scientists dissolve pig cells in the liver that kept the organ functioning, leaving ghostly translucent scaffolds floating in large jars.
To complete the transformation, they then infuse these shells with human cells from the donor’s liver that could not be transplanted.
These living cells move into the nooks and crannies of the scaffold to resume the functions of the organ.
“Because we remove all the cells from this pig organ, our bodies don’t see it as a pig organ,” explains Jeff Ross, CEO of Miromatrix, which runs the lab.
Dr. Amit Tevar, a transplant surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who is not involved with Miromatrix, warns that the planned out-of-body testing will only be an early first step.
But if this novel approach works, “it’s something that, in the long term, has a high probability of contributing to the development of organs that we can use in humans.”
A liver support trial would be the key to an eventual attempt to transplant a bioengineered organ – possibly a kidney, as the patient could still survive on dialysis if the operation failed.
Turning to animals for organs
There are currently over 105,000 people on the US organ transplant waiting list.
“The number of organs available will never be able to meet the demand,” Tevar said. “This is our frustration.”
That’s why the scientists were looking at the animals as another organ source.
A man from Maryland lived two months after receiving the world’s first heart transplant from a genetically modified pig last January.
The FDA is now considering whether to allow additional “xenotransplantationexperiments using the kidneys or hearts of genetically edited pigs.
This is not the case with bioengineered organs, which do not require tinkering with pigs, only organs left over from slaughterhouses.
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