We are already transplanting organs from genetically edited pigs into monkeys: a key step for the future of transplants
In Spain, some 52,000 people are waiting for a kidney transplant today. But the really worrying thing is that, for every transplant that is performed, two people are diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. And the worst thing is that we can find similar dynamics in all transplantable organs. The reason is simple and is based on two ideas: a) there is a chance in 100,000 that two people are compatible and b) we do not have many kidneys to distribute.
Now, little by little, scientists begin to put into practice new ways to solve these two problems.
"A world where nobody has to die waiting for a transplant"
Xenotransplantation for all: Many ways have been tried to use animal organs as a way to solve the problem, but perhaps the most original is that of George Church, the eccentric geneticist at Harvard University, of which we have already spoken on other occasions. In 2017, Church ventured that in the following year we would have organs from genetically edited pigs with CRISPR that could be used for transplantation into humans. As they explain in the MIT Technology Review, he was wrong. But not by much.
Let's do it. And it is that eGenesis, the start-up of Church itself to manufacture porcine organs without rejections, is at work. Without going any further, the company is transplanting its organs into monkeys at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. We don't have much more detail on the type of organs or species of monkeys, but this is certainly a critical step.
"What we are doing is a necessary step. It would be difficult to introduce a modified organ into a person without first testing it on a large animal," explained James Markmann, chief of transplant surgery at Mass General. And reason, as Lluis Montoliú explained to us, is not lacking.
A closer future than it seems. Luhan Yang, co-founder and chief scientist of eGenesis, explained that the company has already created around a hundred pigs in the US and that Qihan Biotech, its Hangzhou-based Chinese partner, has raised many more and have long experimented with different genetic modifications. The controversy is served, but the possibilities too.
We are still a long way off, no doubt, but the genetic revolution is going at a really surprising speed. Almost every week we take giant steps towards the future of medicine, but cases like these in which technology is put at the service of problems that affect so many people are especially promising.