The future already exists, you just have to look for it.
The heart of a genetically modified pig has been successfully transplanted into a monkey, according to scientists in South Korea.
It is the first time the country has claimed to have accomplished such an inter-species operation
Known as xenotransplantation, it is seen by some as a way to end the chronic shortage of human organs available for transplants.
Before the controversial procedure, conducted in Seoul, the cloned pig had its genes responsible for immune rejection removed.
The ultimate aim of such experimentation would be to put pig hearts and other swine organs into humans.
And the South Koreans believe this could become a commercially viable reality within five years.
The first known transplant of a genetically engineered pig heart in a primate was performed in 1994.
But the possibility of animal-to-human operations has divided the medical ethics community.
Medical ethicist Associate Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, speaking in 2010, said such transplants had the potential to bring animal diseases into the human population.
‘It is about whether the community is prepared to accept a part human, part animal.’He said the creation of genetically modified pigs was not ethically acceptable, explaining: ‘It is basically a human-pig, a hybrid, or whatever you want to call it.
South Korean scientists first claimed to have cloned a piglet whose organs were genetically modified to make them more suitable for human transplants in 2009.
Lead scientist Lim Gio-Bin said the cloned piglet, born on April 3, had been genetically altered to lack the ‘alpha-gal’ gene which triggers tissue rejection, according to PhysOrg.
He said his government-sponsored team, involving scientists from four universities and two research institutes, used stem cells of smaller-than-normal pigs to clone ‘mini-pigs’ with modified genes.
Immuno-rejection has been a major hurdle in human organ transplants.
Pig organs are well suited for transplantation but are coated with sugar molecules that trigger acute rejection in human bodies.
Human antibodies attach themselves to such molecules and quickly destroy the transplanted pig organ.
In cloning a pig called Xeno, the scientist said his team adopted almost identical technology to that used by U.S. scientists in 2002 to create cloned piglets, in which one copy of the sugar-producing gene was ‘knocked out’.
An organism receives two copies of a gene, one from the mother and one from the father. Scientists have tried to produce pigs lacking both copies, so far unsuccessfully.
‘Through our achievement, South Korea became the second country in the world to clone such piglets after the United States,’ Lim said at the time.
Lim said then that his team would conduct clinical trials on humans in 2012 and he believed genetically modified mini-pigs could be used commercially around 2017.
Two years ago, Australian scientists kept pig lungs alive and functioning with human blood.
The breakthrough came after scientists at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital were able to remove a section of pig DNA which made the pig organs incompatible with human blood.
Prof Tony D’Apice - who had been breeding pigs for possible transplants since 1989 - said human DNA was added to the engineered animals to control blood clotting and rejection in humans.
Dr Glenn Westall, from the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, said the world-first discovery meant pig-human lung transplants were a real prospect.
I’m a little bit wary of this claim. I’d like them to explain the steps they took and how they can prove their claim since this would be a pretty big deal.