By Marc Beuttler

Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) and United Therapeutics Corporation are teaming up to develop humanized pig lungs. Each year, 400,000 people die from lung disease, and the aim of this partnership is to create organs that are safe to use in humans and effective for transplantation as a treatment for terminal lung disease.

SGI designs its own DNA and uses genome-modification tools to take primary pig cells (those cells that are taken directly from pigs) and to modify the genes within those cells on a large scale in order to “humanize” them. This makes the organs made up of those cells safe for transplantation into human beings.

According to the American Lung Association, chronic lung disease burdens more than 35 million Americans, while 400,000 of those die. Previous attempts to eliminate organ shortage by using organs from other species have failed mostly due to the incompatibilities between different species’ genomes.

This new form of xenotransplantation (between species transplantation) may get rid of these incompatibilities and potentially create an unlimited supply of transplantable organs, thus helping to alleviate the many millions of patients who suffer and die from end-stage organ failure.

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