If You Needed an Organ Transplant, Would You Want One That Was Grown Inside of a Pig?
New advances in medicine mean that Japanese scientists could soon be able to grow human organs inside of pigs. The whole process can take no time, either; we’re talking about less than a year. Strict Japanese laws mean that scientists are traveling abroad to create a pig that is a pig, by all accounts, with human cells and organs — a type of pig-human hybrid. In fact, one of the pioneering Japanese scientists has recently been “lured” to Stanford University to continue his research.
If growing organs inside pigs wasn’t cutting-edge enough, Japanese scientists are also developing ways to recreate the exact human organ that a human in need of an organ transplant needs. The organ would be an exact genetic match, and it would grow inside a pig embryo. Organ donor waiting lists and issues around the body rejecting an organ would be things of the past.
These medical advances are approaching quickly, so, probably sooner than later, Care2 members, you are going to have figure out how this idea will sit with you — pigs crammed in crates that are part human (well, human on cellular level).
One Pig With the Genetics of Two Species
As reported in BBC, a Japanese professor, Professor Nagashima already pulled out the uterus of one female pig and inserted 40 not entirely pig embryos. The special embryos that Professor Nagashima inserted were chimeric. Chimeric is a fancy way of saying that the embryos “carry genetic material from two different species.” Professor Nagashima didn’t stop with embryos; over in another shed, there are chimeric pigs that are already grown.
Another Japanese professor, Professor Nakauchi’s goal doesn’t begin and end with growing human organs inside pigs, either. As reported in BBC, Professor Nakauchi wants to “take skin cells from a human adult and change them in to iPS cells. Those iPS cells can then be injected into a pig embryo.”
Induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, were first discovered in 2006. The iPS cells share many qualities with embryonic stem cells. Perhaps the most desired quality of iPS cells is that “they can develop into any part of the animal’s body.”
No More Organ Donor Waiting Lists or Organ Rejection?
Patients who were told that it would be years before they could receive an organ would hardly have to wait. Donor waiting lists and issues of the body rejecting an organ would be things of the past because scientists would unlock “the ability to reproduce a human organ that is genetically identical to the person who needs it.” While growing an organ inside a pig can be done within a year, the work with iPS cells could take 5 or more years.
While Japan seems like the nucleus of this new research, much of the research is still illegal. In Japan, the government, activists and the general public don’t seem too comfortable with the idea of animal-human, especially pig-human, hybrids. Yet, researchers insist that these new breakthroughs wouldn’t be pig-human hybrids. The animal would still look like a pig and oink like a pig, but it would have some human tissues and organs.
And if the Japanese government continues to resist, then these researchers are always welcome in the big U.S. of A. As reported in Modern Farmer, more funding for his research and looser laws, especially federal laws, have “lured” Professor Nakuchi to Stanford.
As reported in Modern Farmer, Christopher Thomas Scott, PhD, Director of Stanford’s Program on Stem Cells in Society, explains: “‘So they are going to act like pigs, they are going to feel like pigs, whatever ‘pig-ness’ is. We don’t know. We are not pigs.’” The reality is that we know “people think, feel and talk,” but most Americans don’t believe pigs do.
Pigs DO Think, Feel and Talk (sort of)
It’s true. We don’t really know what ‘pig-ness’ is because we aren’t pigs. Yet, common sense observation and expert research suggest that pigs are more human-like than we like to give them credit. And, no, I’m not talking about that recent evolutionary theory claiming that human beings evolved when a chimpanzee and a pig mated – that’s behind us, right?
Here are a few quick examples:
- Pigs do think. Pigs have memories that span many years.
- Pigs do feel. Research has pointed to how positive and negative treatment of pigs can make the pig feel and act more optimistic and pessimistic, respectively.
- Pigs do communicate. Perhaps pigs do not talk and use language the way that humans do, but they definitely communicate. Over 20 distinct oinks have been linked to ‘pig-ness’ activities.
If this new science feels like a scene out of “Brave New World” with a dash of “The Jungle,” with a possible flashback to “Lord of the Flies,” then you are not alone. It’s trippy. Yet, there’s a point that might be trippier, or even a sad irony.
A lot of organ damage is linked to poor lifestyle choices. While lifestyle means a slew of things, consuming meats, especially processed meats, and their saturated fats on a regular basis isn’t always ideal for the organs. For example, too much pork doesn’t do a liver good; consuming pork can even be worse for the liver than consuming alcohol.
Ironically, while we are slaughtering and consuming the animals that are making our organs sick, they may be the key to saving our organs and our lives. Yes, over 120,000 lives (and organs) of men, women and children will be saved, but how many pig and pig embryo lives will be lost?
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