Scientists may soon be able to grow organs for transplants instead of waiting for donors — and it's all thanks to a human-pig hybrid. On Thursday, an international team of scientists announced they had created the first successful human-animal hybrid embryo, publishing their research in the journal Cell. These hybrids, known as chimeras, are controversial, but they could be key to the future of organ replacement by enabling human organs to be grown outside of human bodies and inside of animal ones.
The scientists first experimented with growing mouse-rat hybrids, National Geographic reported, when a mouse pancreas grown in a rat was transplanted back into a mouse; the mouse was cured of diabetes as a result. The scientists then tried to create a rat-pig hybrid, but the effort failed due to the major genetic differences between the two species. Pigs proved to be the perfect match for humans, however, because the two species have similarly sized organs, making it more likely that a pig could grow functioning human organs.
It's big news for a medical industry that's facing a critical organ shortage. Every day, 22 people die while waiting for organ transplants, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Scientists are now one step closer to solving that problem, though the scientists said it'll probably be years before they can grow functioning human organs.