National / Science & Health

Japan approves research program to grow human organs in pigs

JIJI

A science ministry committee on Monday approved a research program to grow human organs, such as the pancreas, inside the bodies of pigs for use in medical transplantation.

The study will be carried out by a team including Hiroshi Nagashima, professor at Meiji University, and other researchers.

The group will inject human induced pluripotent stem cells — known as iPS cells — into the fertilized eggs of genetically engineered pigs with little ability to develop a pancreas, and then grow the eggs in the uterus of pigs.

The fertilized eggs are expected to develop into fetuses with pig and human cells. The group will remove the fetuses some 30 days after the transplant and check how human cells are mixed into the tissue that would became a pancreas.

If the group obtains favorable results, it will grow the fetuses in the uterus for longer, eventually until birth.

Still, it will take at least 10 years for actual use of such organs in medical transplantation into humans, as there are many problems that must be solved.

The government in March lifted a ban on research into injecting human cells into fertilized eggs of animals and growing them in animal bodies.

In July, the ministry approved a plan by Hiromitsu Nakauchi, project professor at the University of Tokyo, and others to create human organs inside the bodies of mice.

The research involving pigs will be conducted as a joint study with Nakauchi.