Researchers have used a new technique for gene editing to eliminate a number of potentially harmful viral genes, which have hampered the process of transplanting human organs of pork, according to Reuters. The study, published in the journal Science, expanded the capabilities of gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9, which functions as a kind of scissors at the molecular level, capable of selectively removing the unwanted parts of the genome.

Previously, in tests made with the same technology, they managed to clear only six regions of the genome at a single intervention. In the newest study, led by George Church, Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard University, American researchers have succeeded in eliminating genetic material simultaneously in 62 regions of the pig genome.

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Although the team, coordinated by professor Church, has demonstrated that it is possible to edit the pig genome to remove cells with specific viruses, the study was not able to demonstrate that such organs could be transplanted in perfect conditions and safety to the bodies of human patients. George Church, however, believes that this technology will enable good pig organs to be used as substitutes for human organs for patients who need a transplant and have no compatible donors.

The American professor presented the successes achieved by his team on October 5 at a meeting organized by the National Academy of Science, which was meant to study the potential risks and discuss moral issues raised by human genome editing.

New technologies have aroused stormy debates on ethical issues after Chinese biologists recently announced that they have achieved the world's first experiment aimed at changing the DNA of a human embryo.

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A few months later, British scientists urged the government of their country official approval to be able to edit human embryos.

In the experiment on pigs, the main concern is a "rearrangement of genomes", which occurs when a gene editing technique unintentionally produces a number of undesirable changes in the genome. In the study conducted by researchers at Harvard, this does not seem to have occurred. 

Professor Church is co-founder of a biotech company, eGenesis, wishing to raise pigs for organ transplants.

Transplants from pigs to humans are not new. Currently, pig heart valves that were previously washed, scrubbed and cleaned are frequently used to repair malfunctioning human heart valves. But the whole pig organs that function similarly to human organs can not be used due to the potential risk of transmission of latent retroviruses that are harmless in pigs but can cause serious illness in humans. #News #Health