Human-pig embryo created by scientists

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By Pierre Bertrand
Human-pig embryo created by scientists

Scientists in California have managed to successfully grow human cells within a pig embryo.

The pig chimera, named after the mythological part-goat, part-serpent and part-lion creature, is the first proven example of non-human embryos being developed with a combination of human and animal DNA.

The researchers injected human stem cells into pig embryos which are then implanted into a sow, or female pig. Human stem cells are developmental stage cells with the ability to develop into any type of tissue.

They are the object of intense and controversial scientific research but offer scientists the tantalising prospect of potentially growing human-compatible organs and other tissues to alleviate global donation shortages.

The process for the researchers at the Salk Institute was not without challenges and their scientific report , published in Cell, a peer-reviewed science journal, revealed the procedure was complicated and offers little assurance human tissues can be grown and harvested from animal embryos.

Of the 2,075 embryos implanted, 186 developed successfully. Scientists, however, only allowed the embryos to develop for 28 weeks.

But within that time, the embryos did show their ability to grow functioning human cells but at a much lower percentage compared to pig tissues.

In a separate study published in the journal Nature this week, scientists identified a method of gene editing they believe could be used to dictate organ growth from one animal species inside of another.

By editing out the genetic information needed for a rat to produce a pancreas, scientists were able to inject mice stem cells, which took advantage of the missing genetic material, and created a mouse pancreas in its place.

This was later removed and transplanted back into a mouse to treat diabetes.

Work on perfecting this method for human organs in pigs is underway.