Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Growing Human Organs in Pigs? Time for California to Step Up?

Looking for a new heart? Need a new kidney? How about a pancreas?

All of those priceless human organs are in short supply. And a Stanford law professor says it is time to get moving on developing more of them.

In an opinion piece last week in the Los Angeles Times, Hank Greely said,
Hank Greely
"Today we face the possibility of babies getting organs grown in human/nonhuman chimeras — beasts that are pigs except for a single human organ. To the uninitiated, this may sound more like the dark arts than modern medicine, but pursuing careful research and potential clinical use of these chimeras is both proper and important.
"Every day about 30 Americans die because they can't get an organ transplant. Upward of 120,000 Americans are on transplant waiting lists. We are, medically, on the cusp of being able to save these lives in new ways: repairing failing organs with new genes or stem cells, building mechanical organs and growing replacement organs."
Greely pointed to a researcher at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte. Greely said the scientist wants to "to grow a human pancreas in a pig to provide insulin-making cells for transplant into diabetics." Greely wrote,
"His research into how this can be accomplished is exciting but very early, yet even those preliminary steps have been threatened by a surprise moratorium announced last fall by the National Institutes of Health. NIH said it would not fund any research that involved putting human stem cells into earliest-stage nonhuman embryos. NIH said this wasn't a ban, but just a pause to consider the implications of such research and possibly to create a policy for it."
Greely did not mention it, but such research could be financed by California's $3 billion stem cell agency. In response to a question, Kevin McCormack, senior communications director for the agency, said,
"On a purely theoretical level CIRM has no objection to growing replacement organs or tissues in pigs, provided it met all CIRM’s rules and regulations. We fund research that does that all the time with mice and rats. Right now none of the research we fund is being used to do that."
The Salk scientist has already received $6.6 million in awards from the agency, but none of it involves growing people organs in pigs.

Greely noted that both California and the nation have an effective system for regulating such research and that the NIH should not be sitting on its hands. He said,
"That's no guarantee that human organs will grow in pigs, but we won't find out if Belmonte and others can't try."
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