Japanese scientists have grown a pancreas in a pig, a breakthrough that could eventually lead to human organs being engineered in the animals’ bodies and used for transplants and research on diseases.
The team, led by Hiromitsu Nakauchi, a professor of stem cell studies at the University of Tokyo, and Hiroshi Nagashima, a professor of developmental engineering at Meiji University, previously generated rat pancreas in mice.
They focused on pigs in the latest study because pigs and humans have internal organs of similar sizes.
The study involved providing a pancreas to a white pig that had been genetically modified to block pancreas formation.
The researchers derived embryos, or clusters of pluripotent cells, which have the potential to develop into different organs, from the white pig and a normal black pig.
The black pig's embryonic cells were injected into the white pig's embryo.
The young pig grown from the processed embryo had a pancreas, although the white pig's embryo lacked the capacity to generate one.
The researchers said the embryonic cells of the black pig, which can grow a normal pancreas, compensated for the missing functions.
If the black pig cells were replaced by human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, a human pancreas could be engineered in a pig, they said.
There are, however, ethical concerns about creating a chimera of cells of the human race and another animal species.
Japanese government guidelines ban growing a baby animal from an animal embryo injected with human iPS cells.
"We hope to solve the technical challenges in three to five years," Nakauchi said. “For about two years, we have been calling for the guidelines to be reviewed. If no decision is forthcoming, we will have to consider doing our research overseas."
The research results will be published this week in the electronic edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
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