Chinese Scientists Make Breakthrough with Humanized Kidneys in Pig Embryos

Chinese scientists managed to generate kidneys with human cells in pig embryos.

Photo: Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health

For the first time, progress was made in creating a human organ inside another animal. A team made up of Chinese and Spanish scientists carried out the experiment, which consisted of humanized kidneys in pig embryos. This is a step forward in helping the organ donation shortage.

At the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, Miguel Ángel Esteban from Spain and Liangxue Lai from China reprogrammed adult human cells that managed to recover their ability to form any organ or tissue in the body. The team then introduced those same cells into pig embryos that had already been genetically modified. Thus, human cells managed to generate a kidney.

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The study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, aims to respond to a global problem: lhe 150,000 transplants are performed annually throughout the world, although in the United States alone the waiting list has more than 100,000 people, of whom 17 die every day for not finding solutions.

This advance is the result of research that had already begun several years ago, in 2017, when a team, also led by a Spanish scientist, announced the creation of pig-human embryos that contained one human cell for every 100,000 pigs. .

The big difference with the recent achievement of the Esteban and Lai team is that half of their kidney cells are human, and they were gestated for 28 days in sows.

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ethical dilemmas

In 2017, the creation of pig-human embryos sparked an ethical debate that is still far from resolved. After a discussion in the commission of experts of the Carlos III Health Institute, biological risks inherent to this kind of experiments were announced. However, at the time, the studies were approved to continue as long as “no animal with human cells could reproduce.”

The researcher at that time, Juan Carlos Izpisua, also Spanish, referred to the current progress made by Esteban: “It has not yet been possible to develop mature humanized organs in pigs, but this study brings us one step closer,” Izpisua said in an interview with The Country of Spain.

For now, Esteban and Lai’s team has the goal of achieving mature kidneys without human cells escaping from that organ and integrating into the pig’s brain, testicles, or ovaries. “The question is whether it is ethically correct to allow pigs to be born with mature humanized kidneys. Everything will depend on the degree of contribution of human cells) in other tissues of the pig”, said Esteban in The Country of Spain.

One of the solutions they have found to avoid any type of ethical problem is the modification of human cells so that they do not go in any way to the central nervous system of animals.

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