HomeHealthMaking human-like pig livers in a quest to alleviate organ shortage

Making human-like pig livers in a quest to alleviate organ shortage


In an effort to alleviate the country’s organ shortage, scientists are transforming pig livers to look and act like humans.

Workers at a suburban Minneapolis laboratory dissolve pig cells that powered the organ, leaving ghostly, semi-translucent scaffolds floating in large jars. To complete the metamorphosis, they infuse those shells with human cells from donated livers that were not transplanted.

The process is highly experimental, but maker Miromatrix is ​​making plans for the first human trials: an experiment outside a patient’s body to see how well a bioengineered liver can filter blood.

“Essentially, we regenerate the organ,” said Jeff Ross, CEO of Miromatrix. “Our bodies will no longer view it as a pig organ.”

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A technician replaces media in a bioreactor containing pig kidneys in a Micromatrix laboratory on Tuesday, December 8, 2022, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
(AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Miromatrix plans first-of-its-kind human testing of a bioengineered organ to begin testing sometime in 2023.

The initial experiment will be outside a patient’s body if the Food and Drug Administration agrees. The researchers would place a human-turned-pig liver next to a hospital bed to temporarily filter the blood of someone whose own liver suddenly failed. And if that novel “liver assist” works, it would be a critical step toward finally attempting a bioengineered organ transplant, likely a kidney.

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A pig's liver that has been "decellated" is held by a technician in a Micromatrix lab on Tuesday, December 8, 2022, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  The first step for workers at this suburban Minneapolis lab is to shampoo the pig cells that made the organ do its job, their color gradually fading as the cells dissolve and are removed.  What remains is a rubbery scaffolding, a honeycomb structure of the liver, its blood vessels now empty.

A technician holds a pig liver that has been “deceased” in a Micromatrix lab on Tuesday, December 8, 2022, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. The first step for workers at this suburban Minneapolis lab is to shampoo the pig cells. that made the organ do its job, its color gradually fading as the cells dissolved and removed. What remains is a rubbery scaffolding, a honeycomb structure of the liver, its blood vessels now empty.
(AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

“It all sounds like science fiction, but it has to start somewhere,” said Dr. Sander Florman, chief of transplantation at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, one of several hospitals already planning to participate in the liver support study. “This is probably more of the near future than xenotransplantation,” or the direct implantation of animal organs into people.

A label on a bioreactor indicates that it contains a pig kidney in a Micromatrix laboratory on Tuesday, December 8, 2022, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

A label on a bioreactor indicates that it contains a pig kidney in a Micromatrix laboratory on Tuesday, December 8, 2022, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
(AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

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More than 105,000 people are on the waiting list in the United States for an organ transplant. Thousands will die before it is your turn. Thousands more are not even included in the list, as it is considered too remote a possibility.

“The number of organs that we have available will never be able to keep up with the demand,” said Dr. Amit Tevar, a transplant surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “This is our frustration.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.



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