Pigs: Not Just for Bacon Anymore… Scientists Cook Up Human Organs

Regulators have opened the door for Japanese researchers to begin the process of farming human organs in the same way ranchers farm livestock for meat. The Council for Science and Technology Policy in Japan recently lifted the 14-day ban researchers operated under when growing human organs, via chimeric embryos, in the wombs of sows.

pigsChimeric embryos are created by taking human embryonic stem cells and coaxing them into developing into the specialized cells associated with whatever organ is desired, be it a pancreas, a liver, or even a heart. These cells are then implanted into a porcine embryo and placed inside the womb of a sow. Once in the womb, the chimeric embryo will, according to the researchers, mature into a fully functional and implantable organ.

Upon slaughter, the organ can be removed and immediately implanted within the patient.

Although researchers worldwide are working on growing organs in the lab, the fine structures and cellular networks that make organs so complex are simply not re-creatable with traditional lab techniques. As a consequence, researchers have looked to make use of Mother Nature’s natural factories.

The use of embryonic stem cells generally has met with fierce opposition in the United States, especially from conservative Republicans who claim that such genetic research is tantamount to playing God.

Despite the opposition, United States researchers are—according to the National Institute of Health’s updated guidelines—allowed to experiment with chimeric hybrids. In fact, the world’s first transgenic monkeys were grown right here in the United States. Human-animal chimeras still require board approval and review by the NIH board, though.

By William Tatum