By Makena Dyck
Did you know that one person joins the organ transplant list every 9 minutes. People find themselves in need of a new organ due to various medical and genetic conditions. Unfortunately, many people die before they can receive an organ because of the difficulties of arranging a successful transplant. Scientists develop techniques using Xenotransplantation to try and solve this crisis. Scientists have come up with ideas on how to genetically engineer the genes of pigs in order to try and save millions of lives worldwide.
Humans and pigs are very similar in the sense that we both have the same organs and certain physical features in common. However, there are some problems with such transplants. Pigs’ organs are meant to sustain an average weight of 300 lbs. This means that their organs grow at a different rate compared to one of a human. Scientists see genetic differences at a cellular level and can alter these differences through DNA modification.
BioMedical engineers created CRISPR, a genetic technology, to either delete, disrupt, correct or insert parts of a DNA sequence using an enzyme called Cas9. Cas9 enzymes are equipped with a short sequence of nucleotides that correspond to a part of cell DNA. When the enzymes enter a cell, they track down the exact sequence of nucleotides from the cell’s DNA and make the changes that it was programmed to do. This can be applied to the idea of using pigs’ organs for human transplant as it would eliminate genetic differences. Another form of genetic modification would be to create a pig-human hybrid. Scientists use a pig’s embryo to create a hybrid. Scientists then inject the embryo with human stem cells to complete the process.
There are many ethical concerns around using pigs’ organs to benefit humans. Morally, people wonder if it’s acceptable to use pigs for organ harvesting. Is it really worth using animals in such a way for the sole benefit of humans? We also don’t know how the DNA modification will affect the pigs. Some people wonder if hybrids could develop human brains, and become a human stuck in a pig’s body.
The lack of scientific certainty brings up concerns regarding the transmissions of diseases from pigs to humans, during organ transplant. Pigs are carriers of Swine Influenza and currently, there is no cure or vaccine to treat Swine Influenza. This could be catastrophic because it could cause another global pandemic. The rejection rate of a kidney transplant (human to human) is 20% after one year. With that in mind, the risk of rejection from xenotransplantation would be much greater considering the organ is coming from a different species. With a much higher rejection rate, more people would end up dying from organ rejection.
The technology and innovation that went into developing this idea is incredible. With all this in mind, I don’t agree with using pigs to create human organs. I believe there are too many unknowns and variables we can’t control. Many things could go wrong and scientists need to conduct trials very carefully. This could change the world forever, whether it’s for the better or worse.