September 12, 2023

Scientific First! Human Kidneys Grown in Pigs

And this little piggy … went to the lab instead, in a pioneering breakthrough, as Chinese scientists have successfully cultivated a human kidney within a pig, marking the first time that a human organ has been grown inside the body of another species.

Researchers from the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Wuyi University injected human cells into these pig embryos (also known as chimeras), then implanted them into surrogate sows in order to fully develop.

The resulting growth over 28 days saw kidneys with mostly – roughly 70% – human cells and a regular structure.

Project lead, Liangxue Lai, spoke to an American scientific publication last Thursday, 7 September, explaining previous attempts had failed because pig cells outgrew the human cells. By genetically modifying the human stem cells this time, they were better integrated by the host’s cells.

“Our findings demonstrate proof of principle … opening an exciting avenue for regenerative medicine and an artificial window for studying human kidney development,” the study published a statement in the notable scientific journal, “Cell Stem Cell”.

This opens the door to attempting the same with other organs. Xenotransplantation – the transplant of animal organs into humans – seems like the stuff of horror films, but it could be life-saving to thousands who have been on organ donor-waiting lists for years.

That reality is still far off as human organs contain many different cell types, and the humanised kidneys in the pigs contain only one subset. Despite the limitations of the technology and the challenges apparent now, it provides amazing ideas for the future.