Reducing Organ Shortages With the Help of CRISPR

Organ transplants are vital, they are used as a last resort to save the lives of people who have organ failure. Right now, there are so many people around the world who are waiting for an organ transplant. In the UK alone, there are approximately 6139 people waiting and in the US, hundreds of thousands of people are waiting for transplants. As you can see, organ shortages are very much a problem around the world. Sadly, a lot of them will further deteriorate and succumb whilst on the waiting list due to organ shortages.

To combat this, xenotransplantation has been suggested, this is whereby animal organs are used in human patients instead. This could be viable, as some pig organs are a similar size to human organs and pig heart valves are already being used in human patients. Furthermore, we would be able to overcome organ shortages due to an unlimited supply, but using animal organs presents its own problems. Of course, using animal organs in human transplants has ethical implications, but apart from that, there could be a high risk of infection. Specifically, when using pig organs, there is a possibility that porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) could infect our cells.

If the viral capabilities were removed from the animal organs, would xenotransplantation be more likely to be used?

Well, a study was published in Xenotransplantation, in which scientists used CRISPR to disrupt pol, which is required for the virus to replicate. It was found that 100% of the PERV components were inactivated in the cells after being CRISPR'd thus showing a potential method of removing the risk of PERVs. This has wide applications, this technology could be used to allow animal organs in human transplants which would reduce waiting times and hopefully more people would be treated.