Monday, March 20, 2017

The First Human-Pig Embryo Is Here, Which Is More Promising Than It Sounds

There have been no shortage of scientific discoveries for which the press won't drag out the old Pandora's Box metaphor. They see scientists in their labs examining something, testing and poking and prodding until it produces results out of blind curiosity and unleashes a host of unforeseen ills upon humanity. But when they do produce results, people often only focus on the monsters and calamities that come out of the box – they forget that hope was in there too. And to those in desperate circumstances, unleashing a few monsters might be worth the risk if it gives them hope. 

It sounds like just another cliched example of scientists playing God, but researchers have created the first human-pig embryo. It's a huge step forward in the race to create lab-grown organs for human transplant.

Again, that might sound weird, but it's a matter of life and death to those on the transplant list. Besides, playing God is Morgan Freeman's job. 

Although healthy, transplantable lab-grown organs are still a ways off, this experiment serves as a proof-of-concept showing human-pig hybrid embryos are possible.

The scientists injected human stem cells into early-stage pig embryos before being transferred into surrogate sows, where they developed into the first trimester.

After that first trimester, the researchers saw that the human cells were developing into human tissue rather than being overwritten by the pig's cells. It's a critical finding because pigs grown large enough that they could grow organs of an appropriate size for humans.

Before this gets too Island of Dr. Moreau, it's worth noting that the researchers had some emotions about their experiments. "The idea of having an animal being born composing of human cells creates some feelings that need to be addressed," team lead Juan Belmonte told The Guardian.

There are other concerns to address before this research can move forward, too, and they're becoming increasingly pressing. For example, viruses might have an easier time jumping across species.

And, of course, there's the whole idea of pigs possibly developing human brains. It seems wise to pump the brakes on this research for now. However, while there are no easy answers to big ethical problems, the folks on the transplant list can't wait forever. 


Author: verified_user