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Two Companies Team up to Create Human Lungs from Pigs

Update Date: May 06, 2014 02:31 PM EDT

Two companies announced on Tuesday that they would team up to create working, human lungs from pigs. Synthetic Genomics Inc., which is privately owned by genome pioneer, J. Craig Venter had decided to join a multi-year deal with a unit from United Therapeutics Corporation. The partnership could potentially change the future of lung transplants.

"Our new collaboration is huge for accelerating our efforts to cure end-stage lung disease," Martine Rothblatt, chairman and chief executive officer of Silver Spring, Maryland-based United Therapeutics, said in a statement reported by CBC News.

"We are pleased to be partnering with Lung Biotechnology and United Therapeutics to advance organ transplantation," said Venter, Ph.D., the founder and chief executive of Synthetic Genomics Inc., reported by the Wall Street Journal. "We believe that our proprietary synthetic genomic tools and technologies, coupled with United Therapeutics' knowledge and advances in regenerative medicine technologies and treatment of lung diseases, should enable us to develop humanized pig organs for safe and effective transplant into humans. We believe this is one of the most exciting and important programs ever undertaken in modern medical science."

For years, researchers and scientists have tried to use animal organs as viable organ implant options for humans. The procedure, which is call xenotransplantation, has never been successful because of the differences in the genomes that cause the body to reject the organ and form blood clots. Under this new partnership, the researchers will attempt to genetically alter certain aspects of the pig's genome so that the pig's lungs would ideally be compatible with humans.

"We're going to start with generating a brand new super-accurate sequence of the pig genome, and then go through in detail and compare it to the human genome," Venter detailed. "The goal is to go in and edit, and where necessary, rewrite using our synthetic genomic tools, the pig genes that seem to be associated with immune responses. We want to get it so there is no acute or chronic rejection."

The team from Synthetic Genomics Inc. will be in charge of editing and rewriting the pig's genome. The results will then be presented to the team from United Therapeutics, who will then take those altered cells and implant them into pig eggs. The eggs will grow into embryos that would ideally grow into humanized lungs that can be used successfully in a transplant.

The companies believe that creating a new genome might take a few years. The first clinical trials would then take a few more years. However, if the end goal is achieved, these organs can save a lot of lives.

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