- Newborn babies suffering from oesophagus astresia will be treated with modified pig organs.
- The 'animal scaffolds' from pigs were re-engineered using the child's own stem cells to avoid rejection.
- Doctors in Britain become the first in the world to use the procedure.
Organs of pig which are modified with stem cells were tested for a rare condition in babies. Oesophagus astresia is a rare condition where the upper section of the gullet does not connect to the stomach, making it difficult to swallow and can quickly lead to more serious problems, including choking and pneumonia.
Oesophageal atresia can be diagnosed in the fetus at as early as 20 weeks. The procedure will be carried out on about ten babies suffering from oesophagus astresia.
The babies, will receive transplants from pig organs which will be modified using the child's own stem cells. Oesophagi varying in size have been taken from pigs at a British farm to prepare for the upcoming surgeries.
The 'animal scaffolds' have been modified to remove all their cells and will be re-engineered using the child's own stem cells to avoid rejection from the patient's body.
Stem cells will be taken from the child's muscle and residual oesophagus just after birth, and tissue engineering takes about eight weeks. Doctors hope the modified oesophagi will be implanted two or three months after birth.
The research team at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London hope to eventually use the procedure to treat adults suffering from oesophageal cancer, a more common and often fatal condition.
Surgeon Paolo De Coppi, who has led the development new treatment, told that the organs have been used for heart valve replacements for several years, but this procedure is 'completely new'.
Pigs have been used for heart valve replacement for many years, but nobody has received an organ developed from an 'animal scaffold' this way,' he told The Times. Each treatment is expected to cost 100,000, but doctors hope the cost will go down.
- Oesophageal atresia can be diagnosed in the foetus at as early as 20 weeks. Around 250 babies are born in the UK each year with oesophageal atresia.
- About 90 percent of cases are treatable through simple procedures.
- In more serious cases the stomach is moved higher up in the chest, which can lead to long-term complications.
Pig-human embryos have been created in a dramatic bid to solve the organ transplant shortage. Scientists have successfully combined human stem cells and pig DNA - with the aim of growing a human organ inside a pig. But critics say the development of such hybrids is 'offensive to human dignity'.
The 'chimera' embryos have been implanted in living sows and allowed to grow for 28 days before being tested and destroyed.
The idea is that if such an embryo matured inside an adult pig, the fetus would have an organ inside made from human cells. This could then be harvested and transplanted into a patient. Experts are bitterly divided over the ethical implications of the breakthrough and the boundaries of genetic research.
Supporters claim it could spell an end to the shortage of donor organs - which means 1,000 people in the UK die every year while waiting for a transplant.
The technique is being trialed on pig fetuses by US scientists who are experimenting with the genes involved in creating a pancreas. Strict rules mean that, for now, the embryos cannot be matured past 28 days and no birth of a hybrid animal is allowed.
The UK Animals in Science Committee, a part of the Home Office, said three-year research licences could be given if there was no viable method for creating organs other than combining human and animal cells.