The team of scientists was led by Hiromitsu Nakauchi, a professor of stem cell studies at the University of Toyko, and Hiroshi Nagashima, professor of developmental engineering at Meiji University, published their findings in the online U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describing how they achieved their groundbreaking finding.
Nakauchi and Nagashima’s study involved giving a pancreas to a male white pig which they had genetically modified to lose its ability to grow its own pancreas. Once this process had been completed, the team developed embryos from the genetically modified white pig, as well as from a normal female black pig which was able to grow its own pancreas. The embryos from the female black pig were introduced into the white pig embryos. Remarkably, the male white pigs that were born from the female white pig (which had undergone genetic engineering) were shown to have a pancreas, even though they technically did not have the ability to produce one.
The male white pigs born of the genetically engineered pig’s embryo had a pancreas made from cells of the black pigs, which shows that despite lacking the ability to create their own pancreas, the embryonic cells of the two pigs formed a chimera (a single organism that is composed of two or more different populations of genetically distinct cells that originated from different zygotes involved in sexual reproduction), and the embryonic cells of the black pig compensated for the white pig embryo’s incapability to grow a pancreas.
The team gained fame in 2010, when they succeeded in creating the pancreas of a rat inside a mouse. For this study, the team focused upon pigs, due to the fact that pigs and humans have internal organs of similar sizes, making for a more directly comparable study. Nakauchi and Nagashima’s eventual goal is to grow human pancreases in pigs, to be used as medical transplants for humans with diabetes. Whilst technologically challenging, not to mentional scientifically astounding, their study is not without ethical concerns. Many are apprehensive about the process, for if pigs were to carry embryos injected with human iPS (human induced pluripotent stem cells) to full term, this would create chimeras containing both human and pig cells.
Sources include: The Japan Times, Japan Today, Japan Daily Press
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