Last week, Mother Jones' Hannah Levintova reported on breast milk-producing cows in Argentina. Now researchers in Japan believe human organ-growing pigs could prove biomedicine’s next big thing. A team at the University of Tokyo implanted a kind of adult stem cell from rats into the embryos of mice genetically bred to be unable to grow their own pancreas. Lo and behold, by the time the mice matured, they possessed fully-developed pancreases formed primarily from the transferred cells.
The researchers are confident that the same methods can be applied to pigs and humans, whose comparable scales and genomic similarities have long made porcine valves a leading option for heart disease sufferers. The techniques employed with the rats and mice, they believe, could yield an abundant new source of human donor organs. In that scenario, a patient's stem cells would be injected into a pig embryo. Once developed over the course of a pig's roughly 16-week gestation period, the organs could be transplanted back into the patient. As a bonus, using a patient's own cells would likely help reduce the risk of rejection.