Do animals hold the key to the global organ shortage? Gene-editing technology has accelerated progress on animal organ transplant to the point where scientists will soon begin the first human trials

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Gene-editing technology has accelerated progress on animal organ transplant to the point where scientists will soon begin the first human trials

Scientist Wenning Qin holds up a Petri dish, carefully sloshes around the pink liquid inside, and slides it under a microscope. Some identical tiny slashes come into focus. These cells, she explains, are derived from the ear of a pig. And they may contain the future of animal to human organ transplantation.

Researchers in South Korea are expected to transplant pig corneas into humans within a year. A handful of groups across the US are also working toward pig organ clinical trials in the next few years, including a group at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston that is starting a six-person clinical trial using “blankets” of pig skin to temporarily protect the skin of burn victims. At the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) medical school, researchers are planning to transplant pig kidneys into adults and hearts into struggling newborns.