Pig Organs For Human Transplants?

Five piglets born in Virginia on Christmas day might be the most high-tech animals in existence. Their owners, make that their inventors, believe the pigs' grandchildren will someday donate their organs to humans desperate for a transplant.

"I see them as the future of transplant medicine," PPL Therapeutics Vice President David Ayares said.

PPL and a rival company, Immerge, both presented piglets last month they called "knock out" pigs. PPL used gene engineering and cloning to knock out the gene in pigs that would cause humans to reject pig organs.

Ayares says the process fools the human immune system to view the pig organs as human parts.

Knock out technology is huge in transplant science, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews. Scientists have tried cross species transplants, called xenotransplants, in the past but always failed. At Immerge, CEO Julia Greenstein says solving rejection would make pig transplants possible within five years.

"We're hopeful that once we have this pig, we'll make a huge advance in terms of the survival times of these organs in experimental models," explained Greenstein.

Medical scientists believe pig-to-human transplants are possible. Because many desperate patients would take a pig heart in a heartbeat, the race is on to build the perfect pig.

Harvard researcher Dr. David Sachs says his pigs would be the best for transplants. They are miniatures -- bred to weigh just 200 pounds. In fact the knock out pigs cloned by Immerge came from the Harvard herd.

Sachs believes the size of large pigs, they can grow to the size of humans, will help make matching organs with donor recipients easier.

Money is driving xenotransplantation. Ayares estimates the market is worth $10 billion.

"These are probably $5 million pigs," Ayares said, referring to the five genetically altered piglets.

The market is there because of the need. More than 60,000 patients in America are waiting for transplants.

Said Sachs, "what I see is the potential cure for many patients who are going to die because they can't get a transplant."

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