For two decades, researchers have been trying to safely harvest the organs - which are similar in size and function to our own - for humans.
A major obstacle until now has been the cancer viruses embedded in pigs’ DNA, which are capable of making the jump to human cells. This has now been cleared, in a world-first, which has seen live pigs genetically engineered to eradicate the virus.
Harvard University scientists are among a team which used gene-editing tool CRISPR Cas9 to produce 37 piglets free of porcine endogenous retro-virus. Dr Luhan Yang, from biotech company eGenesis, which led the team, said: “This research represents an important advance in addressing safety concerns about cross-species viral transmission.”
Now only two obstacles remain to pig organs being transplanted into humans: the immune system rejecting the foreign organ, and incompatibility caused by animal organs failing to work after they have been implanted.
The scientific team behind the virus breakthrough say they will work to use gene editing to remove these challenges, too.