Human-pig hybrid kidneys grown inside porkers in ‘Frankenscience’ experiment

Human-pig kidneys have been grown inside surrogate pigs in what could be a massive breakthrough for human organ transplants.

The so-called 'Frankenscience' experiment is the first time boffins have ever grown a solid "humanised" organ inside another species.

The team from The Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health in China hope to now repeat the process with other human organs including hearts.

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After just 28 days inside surrogate pig mothers, the team say they made kidneys with normal structure. Their ground-breaking work has been published in the Cell Stem Cell journal.

Senior author Professor Lai Liangxue said: “Rat organs have been produced in mice, and mouse organs have been produced in rats, but previous attempts to grow human organs in pigs have not succeeded.”

Prof Liangxue explained the team first genetically engineered a pig embryo so it was missing two genes required for making kidneys. This allowed them to insert human cells without them competing with pig cells.

Special human cells that can develop into anything were then engineered to make them easy to insert. These were then converted into "naïve" cells resembling early human embryo cells.

The "chimeras" (an organism or tissue that contains at least two different sets of DNA, in this case the pig embryos infused with human cells) were given nutrients that both human and pig cells need to grow.

A total of 1,820 embryos were then placed into 13 surrogate pig mothers. After 28 days five were removed. Scientists found they had normal kidneys for their stage of development, with roughly 50% to 60% human DNA.

The team also looked to see if human cells were present in abundance elsewhere in the embryos, which could have thrown up ethical concerns. Luckily they weren't.

Senior author Professor Zhen Dai said: "We found that if you create a niche in the pig embryo, then the human cells naturally go into these spaces.

"We saw only very few human neural cells in the brain and spinal cord and no human cells in the genital ridge, indicating that the human pluripotent stem cells did not differentiate into germ cells."

Now the team plans to allow the kidneys to develop for a longer duration, with the end goal of producing a fully grown humanised kidney.

This would have massive implications for human organ transplants but is likely to take a number of years, the team said.

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