Science has created the first human/pig hybrid embryos

Pigs at the Agropor facility in Spain are being used in the chimera experiments. Image: Cell Press

Using animals to grow human organs for transplant has moved one step close to reality with the latest scientific breakthrough — the creation of the world’s first human/pig hybrid embryos.

Salk Institute researchers in the US, reporting in the journal Cell today, say they’ve successfully grown embryos containing cells from humans and pigs.

“The ultimate goal is to grow functional and transplantable tissue or organs, but we are far away from that,” says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in the Salk Institute of Biological Studies’ Gene Expression Laboratory.

“This is an important first step.”

The researchers injected several different forms of human stem cells into pig embryos.

The human cells survived and formed a human/pig chimera embryo. These were implanted in sows and allowed to develop for between three and four weeks.

“This is long enough for us to try to understand how the human and pig cells mix together early on without raising ethical concerns about mature chimeric animals,” says Izpisua Belmonte.

Even using the most well-performing human stem cells, the level of contribution to the embryo was not high.

One concern with the creation of human/animal mixes is that the resulting offspring will be too human and emerge with highly developed brains.

In this study, the human cells did not become precursors of brain cells that can grow into the central nervous system.

“Our next challenge is to improve efficiency and guide the human cells into forming a particular organ in pigs,” he says

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