Humanized Kidneys Developed Within Pigs Make Their Debut

Humanized Kidneys Developed Within Pigs Make Their Debut

( – Approximately 5,000 people die each year in the US as they wait for kidney transplants. There are more than 90,000 people in America on wait lists, but only about 24,000 surgeries are performed each year. Deceased donors provide about two-thirds of the kidneys transplanted every year. There’s a severe shortage of the organ across the globe, and scientists are looking for ways to solve the problem. There could be a breakthrough on that front.

Little Piggy

On September 7, the medical journal Cell Stem Cell published a study about humanized kidneys being grown in pigs. Researchers used a new technique to grow the organs by injecting human cells into pig embryos.

The scientists created the kidneys in a lab. They then transplanted the chimeric embryos to 13 pigs, where they were allowed to grow for 25 or 28 days. After that period of time, the researchers terminated the embryos and extracted them.

According to the research, the scientists inspected the embryos and found the kidneys were structurally normal for that stage of development. They even had the tubules needed to connect the kidney to the bladder.

Researchers said it was the first time they were able to grow a humanized organ inside of another animal species.

Human and Pig Cells

The kidneys were created using about 50 to 60% of human cells. The brain and spinal cord of the embryos also had human cells. Miguel Esteban, from the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences, one of the study’s senior authors, said it took five years for them to achieve success.

In an email to CNN, Esteban said the team of scientists changed the embryo genetically so they could make a space for the human cells to grow without worrying about competition from the pig cell. He also said they used techniques to modify the human cells to ensure they could “survive in an environment that was not their natural one.” Previous attempts to create these types of pig-human hybrid organs have failed because the swine’s cells outcompete the human cells.

Professor Dusko Ilic, a King’s College London stem cell scientist, said the research was pioneering but said there are challenges. One of those is the fact that there were humanized brain cells in the embryo. That creates an ethical concern. In the United Kingdom, it’s legal to introduce human embryonic cells to animal embryos but those embryos cannot be implanted into an animal host for further development.

The process to fully incubate a human kidney inside of a pig will take years.

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