In a US $50 million research
and development deal, Lung Biotechnology,
a unit of United Therapeutics, has teamed up with Synthetic Genomics to genetically engineer pigs whose organs can be safely transplanted into a
'We believe this is one of the most
exciting and important programs ever undertaken in modern medical science', said
Dr Venter, CEO of Synthetic Genomics.
Approximately 400,000 people die
annually from different forms of lung disease in the US, and very few of these
deaths could be avoided due to the serious shortage of transplantable human
lungs, according to United Therapeutics.
Scientists at Synthetic Genome will edit
the pig genome so that it is compatible with humans, to avoid the common
problem of transplanted organs being rejected by the immune system.
'We're going to start with generating a brand new super-accurate sequence of
the pig genome, and then go through in detail and compare it to the human
genome', Venter told Reuters.
'The goal is to go in and edit, and where necessary, rewrite using our
synthetic genomic tools, the pig genes that seem to be associated with
immune responses', he added.
Researchers at United Therapeutics
will then work with these genetically altered cell and input them into pig
eggs. The purpose of this is to generate embryos, which will develop into pigs with 'humanised' lungs.
'Our combined expertise should enable us
to develop an unlimited supply of transplantable organs, potentially helping
millions of patients who die from end-stage organ disease', said Dr Martine Rothblatt, CEO of
believes that his team may be able to develop these edited cells within a few
years. However, clinical trials in humans would take an additional few years.
Dr Daniel Salomon, president of the American Society of Transplantation,
commented on this project, saying: 'I have no doubt that Dr Venter and
colleagues can develop a very fine genetic map of the pig. But genetically
engineering this into a human-compatible organ is a huge leap'.