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Scientists Achieve Milestone in Growing Human Kidneys in Pigs

In a groundbreaking achievement, scientists have successfully grown kidneys containing predominantly human cells inside pig embryos, marking a significant step toward cultivating transplantable human organs. This pioneering technique involves genetically modifying pig embryos and introducing human cells to initiate kidney development within the pigs, a process never before accomplished. After implanting these modified embryos into surrogate pig mothers, the resulting kidneys displayed mostly human cell composition and normal structure after 28 days.

This five-year-long research, led by senior study author Miguel Esteban at the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences, involved genetic alterations in both pig embryos and human cells to facilitate their coexistence and growth. The ultimate goal of this experimental research is to create patient-specific organs using pigs as incubators, potentially reducing the risk of organ rejection, although the complex process could take years to achieve.

Furthermore, the research team is exploring the possibility of generating other human organs within pig embryos, including the heart and pancreas. While this achievement is groundbreaking, it builds upon previous efforts to create human-pig chimeras, emphasizing the need for careful characterization and ethical considerations.

The research methodology employed cutting-edge techniques such as CRISPR gene editing to modify pig embryos and engineering human pluripotent cells to resemble early human embryonic cells. Researchers also optimized laboratory conditions to support the growth of both human and pig cells. Despite the challenges, the humanized kidneys displayed promising progress.

Ethical concerns surround this research, particularly related to animal welfare and the potential involvement of human cells in unintended pig tissues. However, the research team is taking a cautious approach to address these concerns and avoid ethical controversies.

This approach represents a distinct path from traditional xenotransplantation, where nonhuman tissues or organs are used for human medical treatments. Although this research is exciting, experts emphasize the incremental nature of these advancements and the long journey ahead to achieve practical human organ transplantation using this innovative approach.