The most genetically modified animals in existence, pigs, have been created to help end a shortage of organs for transplant, says US researchers.
The scientists successfully rid 37 pigs of viruses hiding in their DNA, overcoming one of the big barriers to transplanting pig organs to people.
The team at eGenesis admits preventing pig organs from being rejected by the human body remains a huge challenge but experts said it was a promising and exciting first step.
The study, published in the journal Science, started with skin cells from a pig. Tests identified 25 Porcine Endogenous Retroviruses (Pervs) hidden in the pig’s genetic code.
It then took cloning technology, the same used to create Dolly the sheep, to place the genetic material from those cells into a pig’s egg and create embryos.
They were also “the most genetically modified [animals] in terms of the number of modifications”, he said.
More than 100,000 people need an organ transplant in the US. There are about 6,500 people on the UK waiting list.
Dr Yang of eGenesis said, “We recognise we are still at the early stages of research and development.
“We know we have an audacious vision of a world with no shortage of organs, that is very challenging, but that is also our motivation to remove mountains.”
Pigs are particularly promising for xenotransplantation as their organs are a similar size to humans’, and the animals can be bred in large numbers.
Although removing the viruses is only half the challenge, even organs donated from other people can cause a strong immune reaction that leads to the transplant being rejected.
The US team is investigating further genetic modifications to make pig organs more acceptable to the human immune system.