Pigskin genetically modified to close a person’s wound: This is the goal achieved for the first time in the history of xenotransplantation by doctors at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The success of this procedure shows that tissue from genetically treated animals can be successfully used to close a human wound.
When the deep wounds caused by burns have to be closed, the skin removed from the corpses is often placed in so-called “tissue banks,” which preserve and make accessible the human tissue intended for transplantation. However, corpse skin and any other human tissue or organ may be deficient, or the same process may prove very expensive or prohibitively expensive in certain contexts.
However, skin from other people is very useful as it gives the patient the time after transplantation to protect and stabilize the wound while waiting for a transplant with skin removed from the same patient’s body.
To solve the problems associated with the accessibility of tissue banks, Xeno Therapeutics and MGH have started a collaboration to transplant living pig tissue. These pigs are genetically modified by removing a specific gene that is not present in humans. This makes the pigskin appear less “foreign” and therefore less susceptible to attacks by the patient’s immune system.
In this first xenotransplantation, the doctors placed a piece of 5 × 5 cm pigskin on the burn wound of the patient, flanked by a larger piece of corpse skin. After five days, the doctors removed the pieces of skin and found that both skin grafts adhered well to the underlying wound and actually showed that they were indistinguishable. The wound was then treated again with another piece of skin from the patient’s thigh. Further analyses showed no endogenous pig retroviruses.
“This small step we have taken today represents an enormous number of hours spanning decades of research in a variety of fields, including transplant biology, immunology and genetic engineering. In addition, the rapid advances in genetic engineering open up a great and new avenue for genetic modification of pigskin that is not discarded. This is a new chapter in the standard of care for burn and transplant patients,” reports Jeremy Goverman, an MGH surgeon involved in the operation.
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