Human-sheep hybrids could help develop organs for transplants
Researchers at Stanford University have developed the world’s first human-sheep hybrids. The scientists hope that their technique may ultimately be used to provide humans with healthy organs.
Human cells were previously grown inside of pig embryos and human-pig hybrids were created. In the current study, the team hopes to take this approach one step further and grow organs that could be used for transplantation in humans.
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, over 100,000 people are on the national transplant list and a new patient is added to the list every ten minutes.
The researchers are particularly focused on developing human pancreases in sheep to help cure type 1 diabetes, a condition in which pancreatic islet cells do not produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar.
While transplanting organs from animals directly to humans has not yet been successful, the scientists believe they may be able to apply a diabetic individual’s own cells to the embryo to create a compatible organ.
Dr. Hiro Nakauchi is a genetics professor at Stanford and the study’s lead author.
“We have already generated a mouse pancreas in rats and then transplanted those in to diabetic mouse and were able to show almost a complete cure without any immunosuppressants,” said Nakauchi. He explained that producing human-sheep hybrids is a more difficult process.
Currently, around one in every 10,000 cells in the modified sheep embryos are human. Study co-author Pablo Ross explained that one percent of the embryos must be comprised of human cells in order for the technique to be successful.
The scientists are only permitted to develop the embryos for up to 28 days, and they believe that with a longer time frame they will be able to produce more convincing results.
The research was presented at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Austin, Texas.