By Kim Tong-hyung
Scientists participating in a government-backed biotechnology project said they had produced genetically engineered pig clones with organs designed for human transplants.
The Rural Development Administration, which financed the project, said that Tuesday's announcement represents a step forward in the efforts to make xeno-transplantation, or the use of animal organs to replace human ones, a reality.
A research team led by Chung Nam University's Jin Dong-il and local bio-tech firm Mgen said that their cloned piglet, born on May 11, has been genetically altered to have the fas ligand (FasL) protein, which plays an important role in regulating the human immune system.
Government officials claimed that organs from FasL-expressing pigs could have a lesser risk of rejection when transplanted into humans.
Chin's cloned pig follows a similar achievement by the National Institution of Animal Science, which in April revealed the birth of a ``GAL-knockout'' pig that has the enzyme alpha 1, 3-galactose, or ``alpha gal,'' which when transplanted into humans triggers immune rejection, genetically removed.
The researchers are seeking mass production of these genetically engineered pigs, which are designed to produce humanized organs and organ parts such as pancreatic islets of Langerhans, heart valves and hearts. These ``organ farms'' may help solve one of medicine's fastest growing problems ― the shortage of organs for transplant surgery.
However, the track record for xeno-transplants has thus far been nothing short of disastrous.
In 1984, a newborn baby, called by the media as ``Baby Fae,'' received a baboon heart in California, but only lived for 20 days.
In 1999, Jeff Getty, an American AIDS patient, received bone marrow from a baboon. Doctors had hopes that the immune cells in the baboon's marrow would replace those Getty had lost to AIDS, as baboon cells are naturally resistant to HIV. However, the cells functioned for only a brief time and Getty died 11 years later from heart failure.
In 1999, a 35-year-old American HIV patient received a baboon liver, but died just two months after the transplantation after contracting a virus that is known to affect only the animal.