Japanese Scientists to Grow Human Organs in Animals

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:  “The only gift is a portion of thyself.”

It appears that this also applies to animals now, too.

Japanese scientists are expecting approval to grow human organs in animals and harvest them for transplant. Legal experts selected by the government joined a panel of scientists to form new guidelines for embryonic research in Japan.

“We can apply the same principles to human stem cells and pigs, although the guidelines have not permitted us to do this yet,” said Professor Hiromitsu Nakauchi, head of the center for stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at the University of Tokyo.

According to The Daily Telegraph, professor Nakauchi’s team have already achieved great feats in stem cell research. They recently succeeded in injecting stem cells from rats into the embryos of mice that had been genetically altered.

As creepy as it may sound, surgeons could potentially save thousands of lives if they could harvest organs from animals instead of the occasional accident victim. The number of people needing a transplant continues to rise faster than the number of donors available. Within the US alone, more than 5,000 transplant  candidates are added to the waiting list each month and an average of 18 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant.

Organ harvesting, which refers to the removal, preservation and use of human organs and tissue from the bodies of the recently deceased to be used in surgical transplants on the living, have become a largely accepted medical practice–despite the fact that it is mired in ethical debate.

In Japan, there is widespread support for the research, which has often raised red flags in various other parts of the world. Animal rights activists and critics believe this method of xenotransplantation is cruel and could even cause potential devastating epidemics if we were to introduce animal viruses into the human population.

pigsScientists plan to implant a “chimeric embryo” into an animal’s womb, likely a pig, that will grow into a human organ as the host animal matures.

By introducing a human stem cell into the embryo of the animal, a heart or kidney can be cultivated. Currently, Japan’s guidelines do not allow an embryos to be implanted into an animal’s womb.

But as soon as government officials review the details of the revised guidelines, Nakauchi is confident that the first human organ will be produced  “quite quickly, because the technique has been established already.”

Initially, the plan is to breed a pig with a human pancreas, which Nakauchi says is easy and will help save millions of people with diabetes. Although, growing human hearts and kidneys may be a more difficult feat, he eventually hopes that numerous organs will be able to be harvested within a single animal.

When the adult creature is slaughtered, the organs will then be harvested and transplanted into a human.