pancreas

Scientists working towards growing new human pancreases in sheep to cure diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on February 19, 2018

Scientists are confident that within the next decade they will be able to provide a cure for diabetes by creating new pancreases to regulate blood sugar.

Researchers from Stanford University in the United State have created the first human/sheep hybrids paving the way for organs to be grown in animals for transplant and providing a cure for diabetes

They have grown embryos which have sheep and human cells, but these have to be destoryed after 221 days under current regulations. However, they are now applying for permission from regulators to lengthen their experiment to 70 days to see if the human cells really can create an organ.

They have already generated a mouse pancreas in rats successfully transplanted it into a mouse with diabetes and almost cured its diabetes. They believe that there is no reason why this could not be done for humans.

While scientists have previously developed human-pig hybrids, sparking excitement that they could use them grow human organs, no team has been able to take it to the next step.

‘We have already generated a mouse pancreas in rats and then transplanted those in to diabetic mouse and were able to show almost a complete cure,’ said study leader Dr Hiro Nakuachi, a professor of genetics at Stanford.

Sheep

(By sixpixx/Shutterstock.com)

‘When it comes to human/sheep it seems more difficult. So we would like to proceed a little longer and this time use organ deficient embryos. It could take five years or it could take 10 years but I think eventually we will be able to do this,’ he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference.

The goal is to be able to implant human stem cells into sheep embryos and hope that human DNA will be able to grow a pancreas. If they are successful in growing a human organ inside a sheep it would be a world first.

Last year, researchers from the Salk Institute in the US created human/pig hybrids but no one has yet succeeded in growing an organ. In the pig experiments researchers created embryos where one in 100,000 cells were human but with sheep they have increased this to one in 10,000.

Previously scientists had hoped that pig or sheep organs could be used directly because they are roughly the same size as a human. However they were always rejected. The new approach gets round the rejection problem because it uses human stem cells.

Using sheep is also more efficient than pigs. Transplanting around 40 to 50 embryos into pig surrogates only leads to up to 14 piglets, while transferring three to four sheep embryos brings yields of up to three foetuses.

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