In a significant, if likely controversial- feat, researchers have successfully created the first pig-human hybrid in the laboratory. Described as the interspecies chimera, the project proves that human cells could be successfully fused and grown inside a non-human organism, in this case, pigs.
While the experiment is still thriving, scientists believe this leap forward could pave the way for the lab-grown human organs that could be easily implanted inside the people in need. If this noble initiative achieves success, then this breakthrough could save hundreds of thousands of lives across the globe.
Building a Chimera
As reported by the Science Alert, US researchers carried out the experiment by injecting the human cells within pig embryos which were still in their early-stage. Transferred into surrogate sows, the hybrids were left undisturbed until the embryos grew into their first trimester.
All in all, the experiment successfully developed 150 embryos into the chimeras. Remarkably, each embryo managed to develop the heralds of organs, including the liver as well as the heart. In fact, they also enclosed some human cells — nearly 1in 10,000 hybrid cells were human in nature.
Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, one of the researchers from the Salk Institute in California quoted: “The results are likely to lay the foundation stone for the advancing science and medicine by providing an exceptional ability to study organ formation and early embryonic development.” He added, “The study confirms that a deliberately targeted technology could help an organism from one species to harvest a specific organ made of cells from another species.”
Science Behind Chimera
In 2015, Izpisua and his colleagues conducted a few experiments to pave the way for interspecies chimeras in the lab. The team worked wonders to implant human stem cells into mouse embryos, proving the world that human stem could develop inside other species too.
The word chimera derives its roots from Greek mythology and means a monstrous, fire-breathing hybrid creature that once lived in Asia. Made out of more than one animal, it was pictured as a lion sticking out a goat’s head from the side of its neck. Biology states that chimera stands for an organism, natural or artificial, containing cells from another.
According to the experts from National Geographic, A Chimera could be made using two different methods. The first one incorporates the introduction one animal’s organs to the other. While this one involves the risk of rejection (by the host body), the other way is safer as it incorporates the introduction of the cells of one animal into the embryo of the other.
Let’s see what Belmonte has to say regarding the science behind the pig-human chimera:“The definitive goal of chimeric research is to study and learn if we can utilize the stem cells to form genetically-matched human organs, and we are quite positive that our hard work will lead to eventual success.” Furthermore, he added, “Meanwhile, in the process we are going to have a better insight into the evolution of the species and human embryogenesis”.
At last, the pig-human experiment terminated the hybrid embryos after twenty-eight days of development to evade any ethical concerns. While the debate on the ethics continues, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has already handed out moratorium on human chimera experimentation. But looking at the dire human needs, it is now considering reversing the ban.
The proponents from different corners of the world have come together in favor of the research asserting the fact that nearly twenty-two people die every day in the US waiting for an organ transplant. Featured in the Cell, the team discusses the project in the video below: