Japanese scientists have developed pigs lacking the functions of a gene that plays an important role in immune systems, which could lead to the generation of human livers in pig bodies.
Researchers at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, and other organizations said that if the technology is further applied to the production of "immunodeficiency pigs," which have less immune functions and therefore demonstrate less rejection of foreign tissues, it could lead to the development of technologies to generate human livers and other organs in pig bodies.
"Our study could pave the way for future applications to organ transplants and could also contribute to studies to test the safety of new drugs," said Akira Onishi, research unit director at NIAS and a leading member of the research team.
Immunodeficiency models have been created for smaller mammal species such as mice and rats in the past, but no pigs with similar attributes had been generated until now. The anatomy of pigs and humans are similar, so the latest achievement could find medical applications, the team members said.
The scientists used gene recombination and somatic cell cloning technologies to produce 14 immunodeficiency pigs that lack the functions of a gene called "IL2rg." T cells and natural killer cells, which play essential roles in immune systems, were not generated in those pigs.
The immunodeficiency pigs had short lives, even in the controlled lab environment. They died within two months because of infectious diseases and other causes.
When the marrow of a pig with normal immune functions was transplanted into five immunodeficiency models, however, three of them lived for more than a year following the transplants.
The research results were to be published in the June 13 edition of Cell Stem Cell, a U.S. scientific journal.
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