Between 1991 and present day, the number of people on organ transplant lists has grown six fold, from roughly 23,000 per year to over 121,000. That’s right, enough to fill a large football stadium!
Unfortunately though, both donor and transplant operations during the same time have only doubled.
Every year this equates to roughly 8,000 people passing away while waiting for an organ transplant, which is a major problem the biotech industry has been trying to frantically solve.
Scientists and doctors are taking two primary approaches. The first has been to attempt to develop human organs leveraging 3D printing and engineered tissues grown in labs. As you can imagine, developing a fully functioning human organ from scratch is quite a task, but scientists are making headway. The major problem though is building in the interconnectivity with the brain and complex nutrient delivery pathways through hundreds of blood vessels.
On the other side of the fence you have companies that are testing xenotransplantation (transplants between species), but initial attempts at transplanting animal organs into people resulted in catastrophic failure. The human immune system rejects the foreign organ outright.
But there’s still hope. Recently, researchers from Revivicor, a division of United Therapeutics (NASDAQ: UTHR), have successfully transplanted a pig kidney into a baboon (used as a stand-in for a human) through a special gene editing process. This transplanted organ lasted for 136 days, which is far past any earlier results.
Scientists have actually figured out a way to tweak the pigs’ biology to allow for organs with human attributes to grow right inside the animal. This technique leverages human gene editing and injection and is showing promising results.
Although these techniques are not yet viable solutions to the donor-transplant dilemma, scientists are making major headway on this complex problem and hope that the solution will be scalable enough by leveraging the ever-abundant pig population.
I know what you’re thinking, maybe one day with this technology we may be able to see pigs actually fly. Who knows. But at least for the foreseeable future we will now get to use them for more than just breakfast and BBQ!
Editor, BioTech Intel Trader