Controversial plans to grow human organs inside ANIMALS set to go ahead in Japan as officials claim benefits outweigh the risks
- The practice has prompted furious backlash from animal rights campaigners
- However, the experiments are already allowed for research in the UK and US
- An expert panel has concluded allowing the experiments could be beneficial
Controversial plans to grow human organs inside the bodies of animals have moved one step closer to going ahead in Japan.
Government officials in the Asian country are expected to overturn their current ban on the practice by the autumn, according to local reports.
An expert panel, commissioned by Japanese ministers, concluded that allowing the experiments could lead to major scientific breakthroughs.
The practice, which has prompted furious backlash from animal rights campaigners in recent years, is already allowed for research purposes in the UK and US.
Some Japanese biologists have left the country to pursue experiments, which critics consider 'gruesome', across the Pacific Ocean because of the ban.
Government officials in the Asian country are expected to overturn their current ban on the practice of growing organs in animals by the autumn, according to local reports (stock)
However, The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has consulted advice from a panel of scientific experts in relation to the practice.
The panel agreed that researchers should be able to implant animal embryos with human cells into an animal's womb, The Japan News reports.
Currently, Japanese experts are only allowed to inject human induced pluripotent stem cells - which can grow into anything - into an animal embryo.
These embryos are genetically modified already to be incapable of growing certain organs using DNA editing technology Crispr.
If the plans go ahead, when the Ministry reviews its current guidelines, researchers will for the first time be allowed to implement their lab work into animals.
Some scientists believe that creating human organs in animals, such as pigs, could stem the growing shortage of organs needed for transplants.
On average, 20 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
But animal welfare campaigners warn the experiments to grow human organs inside animals echo the fictional horror story 'Never Let Me Go'.
Scientists take stem cells or tissue from humans and inject them into a pig fetus that's been previously genetically modified. The pig embryo is then able to grow a human organ
In the dystopian novel, adapted for the hit 2010 movie, a group of English children are cloned so that as young adults their organs can be used for transplants.
Real-life research has seen scientists inject human stem cells into pig embryos to produce 'chimeric' embryos that are part pig, part human.
Researchers at Meiji and Kyoto Prefectural universities announced they developed pigs with genetically modified organs for human transplants last month.
They are reportedly the first animals developed for xenotransplantation, in which animal organs and tissues are successfully transplanted into humans.
Professor Hiromitsu Nakauchi, a geneticist at Stanford University in California, hopes to create a human pancreas inside a pig, if the ban in Japan is lifted.
He and fellow scientists have already reversed diabetes in mice by giving them an organ grown in a different species - rats.
Professor Nakauchi moved from the University of Tokyo to Stanford to work on the experimental project, which used iPSCs.
The results, published in January 2017, highlighted the first time an inter-species organ transplant successfully treated a medical condition.
Professor Nakauchi reported the results of his scientific projects nine years ago, before they were ever confirmed to be successful.
He said at the time, if the method was ever replicated using human stem cells, the pancreas of diabetic patients could be replaced via this technique.
Scientists already have to follow strict safety and health guidelines when undergoing artificial reproductive technologies.
Pigs have to be raised in a clean, protected environment and to be tested for up to 40 kinds of viruses to prevent infections and make sure patients are safe.
HOW DO SCIENTISTS CREATE GENETICALLY MODIFIED PIG EMBRYOS?
To grow a human organ in an animal embryo, a researcher from the University of California, Davis uses new gene-editing techniques, according to NPR.
With a small laser, researchers can cut a small hole in the outer layer of the embryo’s membrane.
Then, they inject a synthesized molecule that can ‘delete’ the pancreas gene.
Once the DNA has been edited, they then make another hole in the membrane to inject human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).
These are made from the skin of an adult human, and would reduce the risk of transplant rejection.
The cells can turn into any kind of cell or tissue in the human body, and in a pig embryo, they have the same capabilities.
Scientists have been studying how 'model animals' with transplantable organs can save humans' lives for years. They've used sheep, pigs, cows and rats as subjects. File photo
But, it means they could go anywhere else in the body, including the brain.
The researchers hope that the cells will work to take the place of the removed gene in the embryo to create a human pancreas.
Once the iPS cells have been injected, the now-chimera embryo is surgically placed into the womb of an adult pig.
The embryos are allowed to develop until their 28th day, when primitive structures begin to form, and then they are retrieved and dissected.
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